Robert Bork: More Influential Off the Court
The last time I saw Bob Bork was the Sunday before Election Day. His familiar baritone was faint. You had to sit close to hear him, and he seemed to have a little difficulty following the conversation.
At one point, his son Bob directed his attention to an Obama ad that was running on the Internet. It warned darkly that if Romney was elected, he would nominate Robert Bork for the Supreme Court! Bob, who has inherited his father's wry sense of humor (as well as his intellect), played the ad on an iPad. Bob Sr. didn't react at first, and we wondered whether he'd even gotten the drift. But then, eyeing it with the mischievous look he so often wore, he gestured toward the 25-year-old photo of himself. “Awful picture, as you'd expect,” he said. That was the Bob we knew and loved!
Robert Heron Bork was born in Pittsburgh, Penn. He entered the Marine Corps at the age of 17 and served in World War II. He then blazed through the University of Chicago in two years (Students were then able to get credit for courses by taking an exam he explained later.). He pocketed a law degree, fulfilled his obligations to the Marine Corps a second time when the Korean War erupted, and then settled into a career in law.
Bork was blessed with two wonderful marriages. He and his first wife Claire met in college and had three children together. She was diagnosed with cancer in 1971. Her doctor told Bob that there was nothing to be done, that her case was terminal, and that he should keep this from her. He got her another doctor, and she lived nine and a half more years. Two years after her death, Bob married the second warm, intelligent and beautiful woman who would grace his life, Mary Ellen Pohl, a former nun. “Her parents were worried that she wasn't worldly enough to get married,” he once recalled. “I reassured them that I was worldly enough for both of us.”
The name Bork has become a verb because he endured the first of the vicious, libelous, character-assassinating campaigns that have come to characterize judicial nominations and other contests in which liberals feel justified in “lying for justice.”
The passage of time has not diminished the outrage one feels on revisiting that campaign. Sen. Ted Kennedy, who had, through criminal negligence, caused the death of a young woman, warned the nation that Judge Bork was dangerous to women. The ACLU, People for the American Way and the Alliance for Justice, along with their compliant agents at the major networks, newspapers and magazines, floated a series of lies and distortions that left all standards of decency and fair play behind. Bork supported “literacy tests” for black voters. He opposed the teaching of evolution in schools; he favored the poll tax, opposed equal accommodations for black Americans, denied the principle of one-man/one-vote, would overturn 30 years of civil rights legislation, would prevent married couples from using contraception and supported mandatory sterilization of women in certain circumstances. Not a syllable was true.
Bork did support overturning Roe versus Wade – and that was probably the nub of it. If there was one thing liberals were determined to prevent, no matter what tactics were required. It was the free votes of Americans in their 50 states regulating abortion. No lie was too low for that sacred project.
Bork's nomination was defeated. President Reagan might have saved it had he waded in more energetically. But he was still reeling after the Iran/Contra imbroglio and had retreated to his ranch during the thick of it.
While the nation was deprived of Bork's service on the Supreme Court, where he would certainly have shed illumination in all directions, it did gain a powerful public intellectual. He published two bestsellers (“The Tempting of America” and “Slouching Toward Gomorrah”), as well as a number of other books and essays. He lectured, traveled and argued cases before the Supreme Court. His influence on American life may in fact have been greater off the court than it would have been on it.
He was never bitter, though often mordant. Once freed of the constraints of a judge or nominee, he had his say fully and persuasively on law, culture and other matters. The Metzenbaums, Bidens and Kennedys of this world were elegantly filleted by the Bork pen. During the hearings, he was at the mercy of their lies. Afterwards, they were at the mercy of his intellect. The second contest may have been even more lopsided than the first.
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