Few people can say their names have entered the national lexicon, as verbs, no less.
Robert Bork could say that, but probably would have preferred it wasn’t the case.
Bork, who was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan in 1987 and rejected by the Senate that year, died Wednesday in Arlington, Va. He was 85.
First the Senate Judiciary Committee, headed by then Sen. Joe Biden, and later the full Senate, rejected the nomination of the one-time Yale law professor and then member of the federal appellate court in Washington, D.C. Bork’s conservative political ideology and his belief that justices should stick to the original intent of the Constitution’s authors in deciding cases were the main reasons for the opposition. Few people argued he was unqualified to sit on the nation’s highest court.
Although a dozen other Supreme Court nominees had been rejected by the Senate in our nation’s history prior to Bork, those were mostly based on the nominee’s legal qualifications.
Bork was the first nominee to spark national advertising campaigns featuring full-page newspaper attacks and celebrity television ads paid for by opponents trying to persuade the Senate to reject his nomination.
Opposition researchers pored over his earlier writings and court decisions in search of statements to use against him. Sen. Edward Kennedy famously described what he envisioned as “Robert Bork’s America” as a place where women were forced into back-alley abortions and Jim Crow laws were reinstated.
In a word, he was “borked.”
One need not endorse all of Bork’s views on the Constitution or on important cases such as Roe v. Wade to lament the fact that the tactics employed in opposition to his nomination changed the way that judicial nominees — especially Supreme Court nominees — are treated. And that has affected our politics, for the worse.
Prior to Bork’s nomination, presidents were given a large amount of deference on their judicial nominees. So long as they had solid legal backgrounds and reasonable judicial credentials, nominees usually sailed through the Senate confirmation proceess.
After Bork, nearly every Supreme Court nomination, as well as many nominations for lower courts, has become a political fight, regardless of which party is doing the nominating.
What has the nominee written or said about abortion? About gun rights? The environment or property issues? Has the nominee ever supported a political candidate or cause? What about his or her personal life?
The result has been a tit-for-tat battle with each new president’s nominees and increased partisan rancor between the opposing sides.
Some believe it has also prompted presidents to often seek nominees who are least likely to face ferocious opposition — choosing the bland over the brilliant, back-benchers instead of those who write tough judicial decisions.
To an extent, the entire nation has been borked.