Robert H. Bork, legal scholar and former nominee for the Supreme Court, died on Wednesday at 85. His son said he succumbed to complications from a heart ailment.
Ronald Reagan nominated Bork in 1987 to fill the seat vacated by Justice Lewis F. Powell, but a national political and lobbying effort to block his nomination — the first of its kind for a US Supreme Court nominee — which included television ads and pointed televised speeches from prominent members of the Senate, was ultimately successful and led to a 58-42 vote against him.
One of the most memorable moments in the campaign against Bork was when Sen. Edward Kennedy stated during the televised hearing, “In Robert Bork’s America there is no room at the inn for blacks and no place in the Constitution for women.”
In the effort to defeat him, critics also accused Bork of censoring free speech and attempting to end the separation of church and state. Actor Gregory Peck narrated television ads that attacked Bork as an extremist on these and other issues.
Bork remained steadfast throughout the hearings and refused to withdraw even after his nomination appeared doomed. Though there were no shortage of conservative Americans who supported Bork and felt the campaign against him was a travesty, the nominee’s stoic, academic manner was largely believed to have not played well on television.
Although campaigns of this kind are relatively commonplace in today’s day and age, Bork has said later that the fierce attacks surprised both him and the Reagan White House. The term “to bork” subsequently entered the lexicon, referring to the public vilification of someone on ideological or political grounds.