Judge Robert Bork is sworn in to testify before the Senate Judiciary committee on his nomination to be a Supreme Court Justice, Sept. 14, 1987

Like many Americans, I was appalled by the Senate confirmation hearings for Judge Robert Bork’s Supreme Court nomination by President Reagan.  The character assassination indulged in by Senators Kennedy, Biden, Kerry and Spector established a new low for senatorial lack of integrity.  My admiration for Judge Bork prompted me to subsequently invite him to give the speech at the annual Red Mass of the Diocese of Corpus Christi.  In many dioceses the members of the local judiciary are invited to the celebration of a Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit in which the congregation is invited to join in prayers for the judges in the ensuing term of the courts.  Judge Bork came and gave a memorable speech at the Red Mass. 

During his visit in Corpus Christi Judge Bork was kind to invite me to have lunch with him in Washington in the near future.  At the time I was making frequent trips to Washington, D.C. to organize the Catholic Campaign for America.  The rational for the Campaign was that it’s board would be composed of twelve distinguished Catholic laymen who would, as the need arose, issue statements on burning issues confronting American society.  These statements were intended to supplement those issued by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, stressing the lay Catholic support for the Church’s moral teaching on those burning issues. 

Shortly after the Red Mass went to Washington and called Judge Bork.  He recalled his invitation to me to join him for lunch.  I joined Judge Bork and his wife Mary Ellen at a hotel dining room and was pleasantly surprised to discover that he had also invited the parents of William Kristol, the founder and editor of The Weekly Standard, Irving Kristol and Gertrude Himmelfarb.  While I had know the conservative writings of Irving Kristol for many years I did not know Gertrude Himmelfarb who was a famous writer in her own right.  Needless to say the lunch was memorable the conversation was awesome.  Mary Ellen Bork made such a favorable impression on me as a dedicated Catholic laywoman involved in the struggle to preserve the moral health of our society that I invited her to become a member of the Board of Directors of the Catholic Campaign for America, on which she served with distinction.

Judge Robert Bork has made a significant contribution to the jurisprudence of the Federal Judiciary of the United States as a Federal Appellate judge, as well as Solicitor General and Acting Attorney General under President Ronald Reagan in addition to his years as a professor of law at Yale University Law School.  Even though he was denied a seat on the United States Supreme Court, he continued to contribute to the great debate on the future course of our Nation through his speeches and his writings.  If you have not read his book, Slouching Toward Gomorrah, I urge you to read it; Judge Bork was extremely prescient in forecasting the present horrible state of our society.

– Abyssum


Morning Jolt – December 20, 2012

By Jim Geraghty


Robert Bork, R.I.P.

I think it was Roger Kimball who first broke the news of Robert Bork’s passing.

Judge Robert H. Bork, one of the greatest jurists this country has ever produced, died early this morning from heart complications in a Virginia hospital near his home. He was 85.

Bork’s celebrity was only partly  conferred upon him by brilliant legal work and his service as solicitor general and then acting attorney general in the tumultuous Watergate years of the Nixon administration. (Andrew McCarthy wrote an excellent summary of Judge Bork’s work in The New Criterion a few years ago: “Robert H. Bork on Law and Life.”) But by far the most important fuel for fame was the riveting, not to say obscene, attack upon his candidacy for the Supreme Court in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan.

The vicious campaign waged against Judge Bork set a new low—possibly never exceeded—in the exhibition of unbridled leftist venom, indeed hate.  Reporters combed through the Borks trash hoping to find compromising tidbits; they inspected his movie rentals, and were disgusted to find the films of John Wayne liberally represented.  So hysterical was the campaign against Judge Bork that a new transitive verb entered our political vocabulary: “To Bork,” scruple at nothing in order to discredit and defeat a political figure. Monsieur Guillotine gave his name to that means of execution; “progressives,” those leftists haters of America who have so disfigured our national life since the 1960s, gave us the this new form of character assassination.  The so-called “Lion of the Senate,” Ted Kennedy, surely one of the most despicable men ever to hold high public office in the United States (yes, that’s saying something), stood on the Senate floor and emitted a serious of calumnious  lies designed not simply to prevent Judge Bork from being appointed to the Supreme Court but to soil his character irretrievably.

William Jacobson once summarized:

Borking is the complete politicization of the judicial nomination process, in which bad motives are imputed to purely legal positions.  So if a judicial nominee believes that a particular issue is beyond the reach of the federal judiciary and properly for the political process, that nominee will have the worst motives imputed to him or her, including an imputed desire for bad results.  Thus, taking the position that there is no federal constitutional right for [insert claimed right here] allows people like Ted Kennedy to claim that the nominee wants [insert horrific result here].

This tendency to treat judicial restraint as inherently negative, and to insist that the judiciary take on a super-political role, is why borking works so much better against conservatives.

He cited Joe Nocera, a rare liberal voice who is willing to honestly discuss his own side’s moral failings, and who correctly identified the turning point that Bork’s treatment presented:

The Bork fight, in some ways, was the beginning of the end of civil discourse in politics. For years afterward, conservatives seethed at the “systematic demonization” of Bork, recalls Clint Bolick, a longtime conservative legal activist. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution coined the angry verb “to bork,” which meant to destroy a nominee by whatever means necessary. When Republicans borked the Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright less than two years later, there wasn’t a trace of remorse, not after what the Democrats had done to Bork. The anger between Democrats and Republicans, the unwillingness to work together, the profound mistrust — the line from Bork to today’s ugly politics is a straight one.

The character assassination began the day Bork was nominated, when Ted Kennedy gave a fiery speech  describing “Robert Bork’s America” as a place “in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters,” and so on. It continued until the day the nomination was voted down; one ad, for instance, claimed, absurdly, that Bork wanted to give “women workers the choice between sterilization and their job.”

Conservatives were stunned by the relentlessness — and the essential unfairness — of the attacks. But the truth is that many of the liberals fighting the nomination also knew they were unfair. That same Advocacy Institute memo noted that, “Like it or not, Bork falls (perhaps barely) at the borderline of respectability.” It didn’t matter. He had to be portrayed “as an extreme ideological activist.” The ends were used to justify some truly despicable means.

And that gets us to where we are today, where an unwillingness to assent to a liberal’s unspecified legislative agenda is cited as ipso facto evidence that you support the mass murder of children, as Drew M. showcases. No wonder most Americans don’t pay attention to politics. They think it’s an insane asylum of the obnoxious, self-righteous, hateful, and unhinged.

E. M. Zanotti, once a law student of Bork’s, offers a glimpse of the man the cameras never got to see:

Like most modern geniuses, he also had his quirks, which being a professor in a school of barely 300 will bring to light rather quickly. Robert Bork had a morning ritual, on days his wife Mary Ellen (or Saint Mary Ellen, as everyone came to know her, because she really is one of the nicest and most tolerant women alive) stayed in DC, was to walk down the hall from his office with a cigarette in one hand and a frosted doughnut in the other. Occasionally, he sported trucker hats with his suit. Not like the kind you buy in gas stations, but the kind of Ashton Kutcher-style trucker hats that have the mesh in back, like the kind you get for free when you buy your first John Deere tractor for mowing the back 40. And one time, at a picnic to celebrate the law school’s Fifth Anniversary, Robert Bork noticed a pile of fried chicken I assume that he figured his wife wouldn’t let him have. So he opened the sewn-shut pockets of his suit jacket and stuffed wads of greasy drumsticks inside. For later. Or at least until Mary Ellen noticed the grease stains near his waistline.

Looks like that fried chicken didn’t keep him from reaching 85.

R.I.P., Judge Bork.



Wednesday, December 19, 2012, 10:54 AM


Some years ago I published a piece at Catholic Thing about the conversion of Robert Bork to the Catholic Church. I recall on that day, which I was honored to attend, Father C. J. McCloskey said Bork had run almost the entire gamut of sacraments; baptism, first confession, first communion, confirmation, and had his marriage sacramentalized.

Five years ago, Robert Bork was baptized into the Catholic faith. Accompanied by his saintly wife Mary Ellen, in a chapel bursting with friends, Bork nearly ran the table of sacraments. He got five that day: baptism, confirmation, first confession, first Communion, and his marriage was regularized according to the Church. All that was missing were last rites and priestly ordination.

At the time of his Senate hearings, according to Bork himself, he was an atheist. And here is what I wonder. Would Bork have journeyed to Rome had he served on the Supreme Court? While Mary Ellen’s example and influence would have remained present either way, other influences certainly would have been brought to bear, namely, power, and our tendency to attach ourselves to it. The rich young man went away because he was too attached to his things. How much more alluring is power? How heady is it to be in the very thick of the most important questions of our time; questions that affect hundreds of millions of lives and that reverberate through time even unto a kind of immortality? Wouldn’t the danger of hubris and the Olympian nature of the Supreme Court make such interior considerations difficult, if not even impossible?

There is another puzzling question. With Bork on the court, Roe might have been overturned in 1992. But on the court Bork might not have found God and the Church. I don’t even know how to think about that except in light of the shepherd who left the ninety-nine sheep to find the single lost one. The Church teaches that a single soul is worth more than the whole universe. Figure that one out, Christopher Hitchens.

A more pleasant thought: Is it possible that Robert Bork lost the whole world—the court and all that meant—but gained his soul?

Rest in peace, Judge Bork.

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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