Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court changed the history of judicial nominations. Since then, nearly every nominee for the Supreme Court and many appeals court nominees have been highly politicized. It was no longer “was this person suited” but “are they inside the ideological mainstream?” It became liberal vs. conservative, red vs. blue, Republican vs. Democrat.

Bork was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1927. He graduated from the University of Chicago and went to the law school there after earning his bachelor’s. After private practice, he became a professor at Yale, and eventually was nominated to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C Circuit. In 1987, one year after Scalia was confirmed for the Supreme Court, Bork was nominated to take Justice Powell’s seat. What ensued broke Bork.

Reagan and the Republicans had lost the majority in the Senate, and senators Joseph Biden (D-Del.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) fought to show Bork was not fit for the Court, with his Originalist views extending far beyond the “mainstream.” Bork said Brown v. Board, the most famous and important Civil Rights cases in the history of the Supreme Court, was an act of judicial activism as contentious as Roe v. Wade. Although he stated that Brown v. Board was rightly decided, he believed it could only be done when expanding the intentions of the drafters of the Fourteenth Amendment. And although such criticism was mild, it broke an unspoken rule about Brown v. Board: that the ruling is beyond debate. On national television, Kennedy sunk the nomination with his speech about Bork’s America:

“In Robert Bork’s America, there is no room at the inn for blacks and no place in the Constitution for women. And, in our America, there should be no seat on the Supreme Court for Robert Bork.”

With this, Bork was voted down 58-42, and resigned from his judgeship on the D.C. circuit the next year. He went on to write books as well as being a visiting professor.


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