Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Robert Bork

West façade of the Supreme Court Building. (Franz Jantzen)

The news comes that Robert Bork, a legal scholar best known for being denied a seat on the Supreme Court, has died at 85.

Reading the NY Times obit reminded me again of how loathsome his legal views were. He opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, saying it was unconstitutional, but thought poll taxes were legal. Bork disliked the public accommodation requirements of the Civil Rights Act, as an unwarranted government intrusion on freedom. Okay, whites are free not to admit blacks into public accommodations, such as hotels and stores, but blacks don't get the freedom to use those hotels and stores, just to spell out what Bork supported.

He started out as a New Deal supporter, then became a libertarian, then became the kind of conservative who thinks Griswold v. Connecticut was an incorrect decision. That was the Supreme Court decision that keeps the state from prohibiting married couples from purchasing birth control.

Bork very likely first became known to the general public during the so-called Saturday night massacre. First, Elliott Richardson, the Attorney General, refused President Richard M. Nixon's order to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox, resigning instead. Richardson's deputy did the same. Bork, third in line at Justice, pulled the trigger, firing Cox.

Read the Times obit and Jeffrey Toobin's brief column in The New Yorker, then be thankful that this man never served on the Supreme Court.


Anonymous said...

There is one error in Toomin's article. Bork should not be condemned for being the man who fired Cox. He and Richardson and Ruckelshaus had a meeting in which they agreed that the deed would have to be done - the Justice Dept as a whole cannot defy the President's will - and since Richardson and Ruckelshaus were resigning in protest, Bork would have to be the one who pulled the trigger. Bork offered to do it and then resign too, but Richardson told him no, don't resign, because that would leave the Dept. without anyone legally capable of serving as Acting Attorney General.

I don't know what Bork's personal opinions on the matter were, but his action was, unfortunately, proper.

Further, when afterwards Nixon called Bork in and offered to appoint him as the new Attorney General, Bork had the wisdom to reply, "That would not be appropriate."

Bork knew he was marked by his role in this, and I was surprised when Reagan pulled him back out of obscurity a decade later and nominated him for the Court, although I found that others had completely forgotten who he was.

Everything else Toomin says about Bork is completely correct, most emphatically "In the subsequent quarter-century, Bork devoted himself to proving that his critics were right about him all along."

Lisa Hirsch said...

Thanks for that correction. Should I point Too in here in the comments for his article?