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Dec 24 2012

Saying Goodbye to Robert Bork

While I was in the hospital, Robert Bork died. Perfect timing. I have made no secret of my dislike of Bork. I consider the nation to have dodged a huge bullet when he was kept off the Supreme Court in 1987. He would have been Clarence Thomas to the third power, the most dangerous and malevolent justice in the history of the court that I admire so much.

When Andrew Sullivan calls the campaign against his nomination to the court “a smear campaign of almost unprecedented ferocity,” that is vastly overstated. Yes, there was demagoguery employed against him, as there always is in such battles (to be fair, his nomination did make such tactics the norm rather than the exception). But the real dangers of a Bork on the court would hardly have been any less destructive than his detractors argued, even if it was in different ways. And the huge record of deranged writings he has put out since being voted down by the Senate, which Sullivan admits is “embittered, angry, bigoted in many ways, and hostile to modern American culture and life,” only proves that to be true.

An alleged “originalist,” Bork would have read entire sections of the Constitution out of existence. He argued, for example, that the First Amendment did not protect anything but explicitly political speech, leaving artistic, scientific or literary speech unprotected. The 9th Amendment was a mere “ink blot” to be ignored, the concept of unenumerated rights shoved down the rabbit hole forever. It may be the single luckiest nomination that didn’t happen in the history of this country.

33 comments

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  1. 1
    Zeno

    It’ll be even better when Scalia goes away.

  2. 2
    slc1

    An interesting question is how much of Bork’s bile was a result of the nomination fight, where he was convinced that he got a raw deal? Thus, was he as big an asshole before the defeat of his nomination as he was after? Apparently, Mr. Sullivan is trying to claim that he wasn’t.

  3. 3
    otrame

    was he as big an asshole before the defeat of his nomination as he was after?

    Remember the Saturday NIght Massacre, where Nixon ordered his Attorney General to fire the special prosecutor looking into Watergate, Archibald Cox? Remember that the Attorney General refused and resigned, and his second in command also resigned. Robert Bork was next in line. He didn’t resign. He fired Cox. (incidentally leading to the great bumper sticker: Impeach the Cox Sacker).

    People throw the pejorative Nazi around entirely too much, but Bork comes really close to deserving it. He does deserve the term toady. I’m sorry he died, if only because the bell tolls for everyone, but I agree that we dodged a bullet when he was denied the SCOTUS seat, and to me one of the worst things about Romney was that he was in bed with Bork.
    .
    .
    .
    Okay. Sorry for that image. At least brain bleach is on sale this week.

  4. 4
    gworroll

    Otrame @3:

    From what I understand, Bork nearly resigned himself but his former superiors urged him not to, that it would cause too much damage to the Justice Department to lose him too. The point had been made by then, there was little a Bork resignation could have done to salvage the situation. Cox was going to get fired regardless.

  5. 5
    tomh

    Remember the Saturday NIght Massacre

    Without Bork’s firing of Cox, there’s a good chance that he would have been confirmed as Supreme Court justice. There were many senators who never forgot that incident and would never forgive him for it, no matter what his views. He could have passed off his extremist views, as is often done, as the difference between an academic theorizing and a sitting judge.

    With Bork gone, Scalia moves into position as our Chief Legal Crank.

  6. 6
    Michael Heath

    I wonder how active Bob Bork was in the Romney campaign? Did Mitt Romney merely leverage his name as a marketing ploy? Either way reveals one of many failures in character by Romney.

    My reaction to Mr. Bork’s dying was equivalent to hearing that Jerry Falwell died.

  7. 7
    Modusoperandi

    otrame “…and to me one of the worst things about Romney was that he was in bed with Bork.”
    That was great. It meant that any Romney supporter had to defend Bork (and, oh my, John “Motherfucker” Bolton). It’s like Romney surrounded himself with pet skunks.
    -
    gworroll “From what I understand…”
    “Eh! He’s gonna get whacked either way. If you don’t do it, we’re just gonna get someone who will. Be a pity for something to happen to your…career. Fuggedaboutit!”

  8. 8
    Michael Heath

    tomh writes:

    With Bork gone, Scalia moves into position as our Chief Legal Crank.

    I think J. Scalia earned that title on the merits a couple of years ago.

  9. 9
    Didaktylos

    Somebody on FTB mentioned when Bork’s death was first announced that he had been the reserve choice when Scalia was nominated. How different would things have been if they had been nominated the other way round?

  10. 10
    Dennis N

    It has become common Village wisdom that the blocking of Bork’s appointment was when SC nominations became “politicized” (whatever that means in politics). But what about the act of nominating someone with such known views? Is that not “politicizing” the process?

  11. 11
    tomh

    It has become common Village wisdom that the blocking of Bork’s appointment was when SC nominations became “politicized”

    This is a myth. See the recent NYT article, ‘Borking’ Before Bork,

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/21/opinion/supreme-court-nominees-were-blocked-long-before-bork.html

  12. 12
    iknklast

    I don’t know; I think Bork’s nomination had the opposite effect. For the most part, Democrats were so vilified for vilifying Bork that they’re afraid to go after anyone any more, no matter how legitimate. They tend to be overly polite, and usually the nominee gets a pass. I don’t see too much in the Senate anymore of this sort of scrutiny, even though there probably should be.

    The Republicans, on the other hand, have gotten really nasty. Their attacks on Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor were just legendarily brutal. But, the nomination of Bork was, in itself, a nasty bit of work. It would have set us back toward the dark ages very quickly – not that some of the others, such as Scalia and Thomas, haven’t done that very well.

  13. 13
    Artor

    There’s one positive effect that a Bork on the Bench would have had that nobody’s considered. He would have made Scaly-a, Alito & Thomas look like pleasant, considerate liberals. Okay, maybe not so positive…

  14. 14
    d.c.wilson

    Iknklast@12:

    The republicans have justified every politicized attack on a SCTOUS nominee by a democrat by alleging that the democrats started It first. They probably won’t be satisfied until the Senate rejects a democratic nominee. Probably not even then.

  15. 15
    drr1

    Dodged a huge bullet, indeed. As Didaktylos suggests, think what might have happened merely by flipping the order of the Scalia/Bork nominations. If Bork gets nominated in 1986 (instead of 1987), Republicans control the Senate and Bork probably gets confirmed. A year later, the Democrats control the Senate, but Scalia probably survives confirmation, where Bork couldn’t.

    At that point, you’ve got Rehnquist as Chief Justice, and O’Connor, Bork and Scalia as Associates. Having succeeded with his nominees, perhaps Reagan feels emboldened, and doesn’t nominate Ginsburg (who withdrew when it emerged that he’d smoked weed) and Kennedy. Maybe he nominates someone like Ken Starr, instead. Imagine a Court with Rehnquist, O’Connor, Bork, Scalia, Starr, and then, in 1991, Thomas. The constitutional world as we know it would be a much different place.

  16. 16
    d.c.wilson

    tomh writes:

    With Bork gone, Scalia moves into position as our Chief Legal Crank.

    Actually, I think Thomas, whom even Scalia has described as “a nut”, deserves the title. Scalia is right wing hack who can be counted on to rule in favor of the conservative no matter what kind of twisted logic he has to employ. Thomas, on the other hand, believes in some truly crazy shit, like the idea that precedent doesn’t matter ( even though it’s been the cornerstone of common law for centuries) or that the 14th Amendment does not extend the Bill of Rights to the states. If Arkansas were to declare that Southern Baptist was their official state religion and require all residents to contribute to it, Thomas would no problem with that.

  17. 17
    garnetstar

    I also wonder how much of Bork’s bile was due to the nomination fight, which he did not win. Because, if he was the kind of person who cherishes anger, bitterness, and disappointment for 25 years, let that rot his objective intellect, and couldn’t put life’s losses behind him, we dodged an even bigger bullet than we knew at the time.

  18. 18
    Ichthyic

    sullivan is full of it in that piece. Bork’s nomination was hardly any more political than any of the others that followed.

    the only notable thing being that at the time, it was a perfect storm of media coverage highlighting someone who really IS “controversial”, and rightly should have had his ideology put on parade, since it was entirely odious.

  19. 19
    Ichthyic

    …another think I notice with some interest, is that over the years even the meme “Borked”, has come to mean something totally different.

    namely, it essentially is the same as saying “completely broken”:

    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=borked

  20. 20
    pacal

    Sullivan is simply trying to justify his past opinions here by talking about Bork being “vilified”. The fact is that is a familar conservative meme and in many respects baseless. It appears that many of the supposed “vilifications” were quite accurate. It also appears that Bork quite deliberately at the time hid his true views and in effect lied during the process. The “vilification” is basically a conservative myth.

  21. 21
    democommie

    “I’m sorry he died, if only because the bell tolls for everyone,”

    I’m not. I could be happier about his being dead, but it would involve some gratuitous suffering. He and his views caused real damage. He died far too late.

  22. 22
    sivivolk

    Somehow I’m not surprised Andrew “The Bell Curve is perfectly objective” Sullivan liked Bork. Further argument against him being any sort of relevant thinker.

  23. 23
    tbp1

    @20: Yes, the way you “vilify” a conservative is to quote him/her accurately (or paraphrase accurately) and then to accurately describe the consequences of his/her ideas and policies.

    Not exactly the same thing, but I found it telling that when Tina Fey was doing her uncanny Sarah Palin routines on SNL, the lines that got the biggest laughs were the actual, verbatim quotes. Ms. Palin satirized herself much more effectively than anything anyone else could write.

  24. 24
    gratch

    This is sort of off topic but I just wanted to say: Ed you are a machine! A denial of service of attack kept the Atheism Census off line longer than open heart surgery kept you from delivering to us your words of wisdom. My hat is off to you sir!

  25. 25
    Joey Maloney

    Apparently, the worst smear and demagoguery one can deploy against a conservative is to quote their own words and positions back at them. The horror!

    Saying Goodbye to Robert Bork

    (Waving gaily) Bye! See you in hell!

  26. 26
    Joey Maloney

    …except @23 beat me to it.

  27. 27
    dingojack

    Buh Bye Robert – Don’t let the gates of hell smack you in the ass…
    Dingo

  28. 28
    Michael Heath

    sivivolk writes:

    Somehow I’m not surprised Andrew “The Bell Curve is perfectly objective” Sullivan liked Bork. Further argument against him being any sort of relevant thinker.

    Andrew Sullivan explicitly condemned President Reagan for nominating Mr. Bork. Instead he criticized the judicial nomination process in the U.S. Senate. Here’s what Sullivan stated about Bork in the blog post which Ed links to here:

    Bork’s radical judicial philosophy . . . [President Reagan] deserves some of the blame for such a radical move.
    [...]
    But of course I am glad that Bork did not get on the Court for many reasons, not least of which was his decline from a bracing intellectual breath of fresh air in a stiflingly liberal elite culture into what the GOP has become today: embittered, angry, bigoted in many ways, and hostile to modern American culture and life. The cheap polemics of his later work – the title of his book, Slouching Toward Gomorrah, tells you a lot – hurt his reputation as an intellectual. Maybe this degeneracy might not have happened without the bitterness of his political hazing. It’s just a pity he didn’t not have the strength of character to move on and let it go.

  29. 29
    democommie

    O/T, but, hey, it’s Christmas or, as I prefer to label it, ChrisKwanzUkkahFestiNalia.

    I love this:

    http://www.marriedtothesea.com/index.php?date=122412

  30. 30
    Ing

    Blaming the process for Bork’s vileness is downright abhorant. Stop making excuses for an aweful man. Apparently everyone but privledged assholes have to take responsibility.I never get this reflex some people seem to have to diminish the nastiness of some of the worst of our culture.

  31. 31
    Ichthyic

    his decline from a bracing intellectual breath of fresh air in a stiflingly liberal elite culture

    It’s lines like that, that made me drop Sullivan from my reading list.

    at NO TIME was Bork EVER an “intellectual breath of fresh air”, and “stifling liberal elite” makes no sense at all.

    still don’t know why you like him so much, Michael.

  32. 32
    joachim

    Bork and Hitchens can blame each other in Hell.

  33. 33
    maddog1129

    Hitchens would have a good time; Bork, not so much.

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