Noted jurist, author, and scholar, Robert Heron Bork was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He received a B.A. from the University of Chicago in 1948 and a J.D. in 1953. From 1954 to 1962, he worked in private practice before moving on to a professorship at Yale Law School. He served as solicitor general of the United States from 1972 to 1977 and as acting attorney general of the United States in 1973–1974. During his tenure as attorney general he became a part of the history of the Watergate scandal when he followed President’s Nixon’s order to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his assistant, William Ruckelshaus, were first ordered to fire Cox, but refused to do so and resigned. Bork wished to resign as well, but Richardson and Ruckelshaus asked that he remain in order to ensure that the Justice Department continued to operate.
In 1977, Bork returned to teaching at Yale Law School. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan appointed Bork to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit where he established a reputation as a conservative jurist. In 1987, with the announcement of Justice Lewis Powell’s retirement, President Reagan nominated Bork for the U.S. Supreme Court.
The nomination sparked a major debate because of Bork’s controversial views on issues such as judicial activism, civil rights, and civil liberties. Bork advocates a strict constructionist reading of the Constitution, argues that jurists should be guided by the original intent of the founders when applying provisions of the Constitution, and maintains that judges should not legislate from the bench. This has led him to take issue with the U.S. Supreme Court and some of its decisions. For example, Bork takes aim at Griswold v. Connecticut (1964), a landmark case that formally established a constitutional right to privacy. Bork contends that Justice Douglas created an overall right to privacy that does not exist in the Constitution. He asserts that the judiciary erroneously utilizes the Fourteenth Amendment to create new constitutional rights. Additionally, Bork supports a more limited reading of First Amendment rights and privileges.
Bork’s nomination hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee began on September 15, 1987, and lasted twelve days. In addition to the lengthy questioning of Bork by the Committee, numerous supporters and opponents testified as well. In addition, the American Bar Association gave Bork its highest rating. However, in the end, the vote from the Judiciary Committee was nine to five against Bork. All of the Democrats voted against him, as well as one Republican, Arlen Specter. Bork’s nomination was defeated in the Senate at large, mainly on party lines, by a vote of fifty-eight to forty-two. The defeat was significant because it marked a change in what was viewed as the advice and consent role of the U.S. Senate. Previously, nominees could expect to be confirmed regardless of political affiliation, as long as they were experienced and qualified.
Two months after his nomination was defeated, Bork resigned from the Court of Appeals to write and lecture at the American Enterprise Institute, where he is currently a senior fellow. He continues to research, publish, and speak on issues such as constitutional and anti-trust law, as well as American culture.
MARY K. MANKUS
References and Further Reading
See also Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965)