Twenty five years ago, President Ronald Reagan nominated Robert Bork, former Solicitor General and Acting Attorney General under President Richard Nixon, as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. His death was announced today by his son.
Bork had become controversial for firing Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox during the Watergate Scandal, as ordered by President Nixon. But he also became controversial for the judicial viewpoint known as “originalism”, which contended that judges and Justices should always interpret the Constitution solely on the basis of what the Founding Fathers enunciated in the 18th century, and not consider changing times in their decisions.
This alarmed progressives, liberals, labor supporters, African Americans, women, environmentalists, and others who saw him as a threat to progress on race and gender, and also on privacy rights, including abortion and contraceptives, of which he vehemently was on record as an opponent of such rights not contained in the original Constitution. Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden became major critics, and his nomination became a massive controversy, and made it that future Supreme Court nominees would be examined with a “fine tooth comb”, making them less willing to be as forthcoming as Bork was in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings.
Bork also believed in no limitation on police rights, and thought evolution should not be taught in public schools as fact, therefore promoting fundamentalist religion as part of the curriculum of schools. He was confrontational in his approach, giving as good as he received in the pursuing debate. He displayed no problem with the growth of monopolies, and had no interest in the rights of gay men and women.
After a bitter battle, he was rejected, and this affected the future Court, as Anthony Kennedy became the new appointee the following year, and now after almost 25 years on the Court, has become in recent years the “swing” vote on many cases, therefore having a major impact on constitutional law.
Do not forget that Kennedy’s vote on Gay Privacy rights, in Lawrence V. Texas in 2003, transformed the gay rights movement, and it is thought likely that his vote will call for the allowance of gay marriage when the cases presently before the Court come up for consideration in March, and decision in June!
There is no way that Robert Bork would have been a “swing” vote on the Court, and might very well have been MORE conservative and right wing than either Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas have turned out to be, so it was a great moment when Bork, with his radical right agenda, wishing to turn back the decisions of the Earl Warren and Warren Burger Courts that expanded individual rights from the 1950s through the 1980s, was soundly rejected!