CNN and others are reporting the death of Robert Bork early this morning:
federal judge and conservative legal scholar Robert Bork died early
Wednesday at his Virginia home, his family confirmed to CNN. He was 85.
best known for his nomination to the Supreme Court by President Ronald
Reagan in 1987, Bork was rejected for the post after a contentious
confirmation battle led by left-leaning groups that opposed his
conservative judicial philosophies.
Bork had recently served as a
senior legal adviser to Republican Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.
He was a solicitor general during the Nixon administration and first
gained notoriety for carrying out the president's order to fire the
special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal in 1973, an
episode known as the Saturday Night Massacre.
But it was the
Senate's rejection of his high court nomination that earned the
conservative Bork a political legacy -- symbolic of the contentious,
partisan nature of congressional confirmations.
Bork was also known as a staunch advocate for "originalism," a principle that defends the original intent of the Constitution.
recent years, Bork became a well-regarded conservative voice on legal
and constitutional matters, as well as the author of several books
including "Slouching Toward Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American
Decline." He was also a frequent commentator.
Matthew Cooper of the National Journal writes:
all accounts, Bork was fun and interesting and one of the really grand
figures of Washington even if his book title, Slouching Towards
Gomorrah, suggested a scold. He converted to Catholicism with the help
of Fr. C. John McCloskey and opus dei priest who assisted the late
journalist Robert Novak and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to Catholicism.
(Bork's widow is a former nun.) I know his daughter Ellen a bit and wish
her and her family the best. A giant's fallen.
Bork was, of
course, far, far more than a "scold"; he was a true intellectual, as a
reading of his books and articles indicates. Here are a couple of short
passages from Slouching Towards Gomarrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline, published in 1996:
The truth is that, despite the statistics on churchgoing, etc., the
United States is a very secular nation that, for the most part, does not
take religion seriously. Not only may the statistics overstate the
religious reality - people may be telling pollsters what they think
makes a good impression - but statistics say nothing of the quality or
depth of American religious belief. It is increasingly clear that very
few people who claim a religion could truthfully say that it informs
their attitudes and significantly affects their behavior.
practices and beliefs of the Catholic laity offer a good test case
because the Catholic Church's teachings on contraception, abortion,
divorce and remarriage, and the infallibility of the pope on matters of
faith and morals, are unusually clear. Yet it is also clear that many of
the laity display the Tocqueville syndrome and "keep their minds
floating at random between liberty and obedience." ... Conformity to the
spirit of the times appears to be characterize the clergy as well as
the laity. ...
The obstrusive fact is
that the churches that make the highest demands on their members, that
focus on salvation, community, and morality, that stand against the
direction of the secular culture, are the churches that have gained in
If religion is being
alterned internally by the forces of feminism and left-wing ideology, it
is simultaneously being marginalized in our public life by the
hostility of the intellectual class. The two most significant
manifestations of that hostility are the federal judiciary's wholly
unwarranted expansion of the First Admendment's prohibition of the
establishment of religion and the national press's ignoring of religion
as a topic of any importance.
It's worth pointing out that Bork wrote all of that years before becoming Catholic. Over at First Things (to which Bork contributed), Austin Ruse writes about Bork's conversion to Catholicism in 2003 by referring back to a piece he wrote for The Catholic Thing about that conversion:
has referred to judges as Olympians, and not as a compliment. By that
he means those judges around the world who have decided that they, and
not elected representatives, should rule. Bork has a different, more
limited view of the role of a judge. Even so, being a member of the
Supreme Court is Olympian, a chance at a kind of secular immortality
given to very few. Bork did not get this; he got something else instead.
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.
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.
more pleasant thought: Is it possible that Robert Bork lost the whole
world - the court and all that meant - but gained his soul?
May God grant Robert Bork mercy and eternal rest.