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Robert Bork

Solicitor General of the United States during the Watergate Scandal

Robert H. Bork

Robert Heron Bork was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on March 1, 1927. He earned his B.A. and J.D. degrees from the University of Chicago, and took up the practice of law in 1954.

In 1962 Bork gave up his private practice to become a professor at the Yale Law School, in which capacity he worked until 1975, and again from 1977 to 1981. In 1978 he wrote The Antitrust Paradox, in which he argued that consumers often benefitted from corporate mergers and that many then-current readings of antitrust laws were economically irrational and actually hurt consumers.

As Solicitor General of the United States from 1972 to 1977, Bork argued several high-profile cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Chief Justice Warren Burger once remarked that Bork was the most effective counsel to appear during his tenure. Bork also hired many attorneys as assistants who themselves went on to remarkable careers, including Judges Danny Boggs and Frank H. Easterbrook, and Robert Reich, who became President Bill Clinton's Secretary of Labor.

In 1973 President Richard Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Independent Prosecutor Archibald Cox, who was investigating the Watergate Scandal. When Richardson resigned rather than carry out Nixon's order, the task fell to Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, who also resigned rather than do as he was told. Bork, as third in command, was prepared to follow suit, but was persuaded by Richardson and Ruckelshaus to stay rather than further damage the Justice Department. Now elevated to the position of Acting Attorney General (in which capacity he served until 1974), Bork carried out Nixon's order and fired Cox. As soon as the controversy was over he reverted back to his position as Solicitor General.

Bork's conservative philosophy caused controversy during his tenure as a a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (1982-1988). One case in particular, Dronenburg v. Zech (1984), made him enemies amongst the homosexual community. James L. Dronenburg, who had been administratively discharged from the Navy for engaging in homosexual conduct, argued that his discharge violated his right to privacy. The argument was rejected in Bork's opinion, in which he also criticized the cases in which the Supreme Court had enunciated that a right to privacy even existed.

On July 1, 1987, President Ronald Reagan announced his nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, where he would be replacing retiring Associate Justice Lewis Powell, a moderate. Within 45 minutes after Reagan's announcement, Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy gave a nationally televised speech in which he outlined the many reasons why the conservative Bork was unfit for the bench. Kennedy's speech, along with a series of television ads narrated by Gregory Peck, fueled a nationwide wave of protest against Bork. Virtually every liberal organization in the country came out against his nomination, including the Alliance for Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, National Abortion Rights Action League, and Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. So intense was the opposition that someone even leaked a list of his video rentals to the press. The confirmation was ultimately defeated by the Senate, by a vote of 42 for and 58 against; the vote largely followed party lines.

Disgusted by the controversy surrounding his nomination and the subsequent many slams at his personal character, Bork resigned his appellate judgeship in 1988 and resumed his law practice, often representing clients with less than favorable public images -- including tobacco companies in the mid-1990s. He died in Pittsburgh, Pennslvania, on December 19, 2012.

Robert Bork was the author of several articles and books, including:
The Antitrust Paradox: A Policy at War with Itself (1978)
The Tempting of America (1990)
Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline (1996)
Coercing Virtue: The Worldwide Rule of Judges (2000)
A Country I Do Not Recognize: The Legal Assault on American Values (2005)

See Also

President Richard Nixon
President Ronald Reagan
Ted Kennedy

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This page was last updated on 10/23/2018.