Robert Heron Bork (born March 1, 1927) is a conservative American legal scholar and former judge who advocates an originalist interpretation of the United States Constitution.
Robert Bork, in books such as The Tempting of America, argues that the Constitution should be interpreted based on the Framers' original understanding of the constitutional text. He is an advocate for judicial restraint, reiterating that it was the Court's task to adjudicate, not to legislate, from the bench. Robert Bork has written: "We are increasingly governed not by law or elected representatives but by an unelected, unrepresentative, unaccountable committee of lawyers applying no will but their own." Bork's views have influenced the legal opinions of conservative judges such as Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
Bork started in private practice in 1954 and then was a professor at Yale Law School from 1962 to 1975 and 1977 to 1981. At Yale, he was best known for writing The Antitrust Paradox, a book that argued that antitrust law should be interpreted to favor the interests of consumers, who often benefit from mergers. Bork's writings on antitrust law have had a profound influence on the Supreme Court's antitrust jurisprudence, as the Court has taken a markedly less activist approach to antitrust law since the 1970s.
Term as Solicitor General
Bork served as Solicitor General in the U.S. Department of Justice from 1972 to 1977, and as acting Attorney General of the United States from 1973 to 1974. As Solicitor General, Bork argued several high profile cases before the Supreme Court in the 1970s, including 1974's Milliken v. Bradley, where Bork's brief on behalf of the State of Michigan was influential among the justices. As acting Attorney General, he is known for carrying out U.S. President Richard Nixon's order to fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox following Cox's request of tapes of Oval Office conversations, known as the "Saturday Night Massacre". Nixon's Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Richardson's Deputy Attorney General, William Ruckelshaus, resigned rather than carry out that order. Bork, next in line after Richardson and Ruckelshaus, was promoted by Nixon to acting Attorney General, and promptly fired Cox on the advice of his predecessors. He subsequently resumed his duties as Solicitor General.
Supreme Court nomination
Bork was a circuit judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit from 1982 to 1988, and was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to the Supreme Court in 1987. He was strongly opposed by political groups favoring a continuation of the liberal jurisprudence of the Warren and Burger courts. During his nomination his video rental history was leaked to the press, which led to the Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988 being enacted. To pro-choice groups, Bork's strong views on judicial restraint, and his belief that the Constitution does not contain a "right to privacy," were viewed as a clear signal that if he became a Justice on the Supreme Court, he would vote to reverse the Court's 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade. Accordingly, a large number of politically liberal groups mobilized to pressure for Bork's rejection, and the resulting 1987 Senate confirmation hearings became an intensely ideological battle. On October 23, 1987, the Senate rejected Bork's confirmation with a 58-42 vote.
Republicans argued that Bork had been treated unfairly in the confirmation hearings. Many critics attacked Bork's confirmation process as being purely ideologically based, and alleged that in the future, the only judges that would survive the confirmation process would be judges who had never ruled on, or publicly spoken about their views on, controversial matters such as abortion.
"Bork" as a verb
In the years after the Saturday Night Massacre, a well-known joke said that "borking" was "firing a man for doing exactly what he was hired to do" (i.e. Judge Bork had "borked" Archibald Cox, whose job had been to investigate criminal activities in the Nixon White House). After Bork's confirmation hearings, however, a new meaning was given to Bork's name: to be borked is to be roughly treated and then fail confirmation at a Congressional confirmation hearing.
Following his failure to be confirmed, he became a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Bork is currently a lecturer at the University of Richmond law school. He has also written several books, including Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline. The vacant seat on the court to which Bork was nominated eventually went to Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Bork converted to Catholicism in 2003.