Robert Bork, whose failed Supreme Court nomination was one of the most contentious across-the-aisle battles in modern Washington, died today of complications from heart disease. He was 85.
Throughout his judicial career, Bork worked to undermine affirmative action and reproductive rights, and prevent extending civil-rights laws to the LGBT community. In 1984, he argued that “private, consensual homosexual conduct is not constitutionally protected.”
When Justice Lewis Powell retired from the Supreme Court in 1987, then-president Ronald Reagan nominated Bork for the highest court in the land. But the left rallied staunch opposition, including a television campaign featuring actor Gregory Peck.
“Robert Bork’s America,” Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) declared on the Senate floor, “ is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is — and is often the only — protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.”
The Senate voted 58-42 to deny Bork’s appointment—Anthony Kennedy eventually took the slot on the bench—and the battle led SCOTUS nominees ever since then to keep fairly mum about their personal views.
After his confirmation was scuttled, Bork left the judiciary but remained active in reactionary political causes. He vocally opposed the “radical redefinition of mariage” posed by same-sex marriage, and supported a constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality. Last year, he worked as a legal adviser for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.
Bork also became part of the American lexicon: In March 2002, the Oxford English Dictionary added an entry for the verb “bork” to mean, “to defame or vilify a person systematically… usually with the aim of preventing his or her appointment to public office.”
Hell of a legacy.