His defeat taught interest groups to demonize judicial nominees based solely on their worldview.
When Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement in June, liberal interest groups were apoplectic. Many Senate Democrats, including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, vowed to oppose any nominee and kept their promise when President Trump nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Liberal groups rail against him for transparently political reasons: They don’t like the way they think he will vote, as if he were a legislator.
The confirmation process for Supreme Court nominees hasn’t always been so contentious and partisan. The Senate used to evaluate nominees based on qualifications and temperament. As recently as 1986, the upper chamber unanimously confirmed Justice Antonin Scalia. But things changed the following year, when a Democratic Senate denied confirmation to perhaps the most qualified candidate ever nominated to the court: Robert Bork.
Despite Bork’s unsurpassed credentials, liberals opposed him solely because of his conservative judicial philosophy. They succeeded and in the process coined a new verb, “to bork.” The confirmation process for Supreme Court nominees has been corrupted ever since.
The Bork saga has begun to recede from public consciousness, so it’s worth recalling those events and the man at the center of them. Bork had an illustrious legal career. After graduating from the University of Chicago, where he obtained both his undergraduate and law degrees, he practiced law with the prestigious firm Kirkland & Ellis, where he became a partner. He joined the faculty of Yale Law School—generally considered the nation’s best—in 1962, specializing in antitrust and constitutional law.
Mr. Pulliam, a contributing editor at the Law and Liberty website, blogs at MisruleOfLaw.com. This article is adapted from the Summer issue of the City Journal.
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