Robert Heron Bork is one of my all-time heroes. Not for his values– many of those are incredibly problematic and I don’t agree with many of Bork’s beliefs at all. But Bork was a man who lived and died on his convictions, even if they were wildly unpopular. And I really respect that. It’s easy to believe in something when it’s en vogue. But when your opinion’s against the grain, and a lifetime-appointed-SCOTUS-seat is on the line, and you still stick to your guns… well, that’s really something. I admire Robert Bork even though I vehemently disagree with him on fundamental, core issues. I think this is perfectly reasonable and not contradictory at all. People are complicated, multi-faceted, multi-dimensional creatures. A simple black-and-white view of the world, IMHO, is over-simplified, reductive, foolish, and moronic and I personally hold people with such unnuanced worldviews in stupendously low esteem. Maybe that’s just me though. I don’t know.
Another trait about Bork: This guy was super-arrogant. Like, Level-9000-Arrogant on a 1-10 scale. Look up “chutzpah“ and you’ll find a photo of Robert Heron Bork. An example: It’s common for SCOTUS nominees to extensively prep for their senate confirmation hearings with a practice called “murder boards.” It sounds gruesome but is basically just practicing answering really tough questions that a committee will likely grill you with. After all, these hearings are a nationally televised event, with millions of Americans watching, and this is literally the biggest stage. The stakes don’t get any higher than a SCOTUS seat. (I personally think it’s even more significant than being the president.) But Bork didn’t prep at all. He just waltzed into those senate confirmation hearings and shot from the hip. Yes, ultimately— it went poorly. But genuinely, in that moment: Do we not agree this was totally boss and a baller move?
I know today’s entry about Bork may feel non sequitur and weird but firewalk with me a moment back to those senate confirmation hearings during that fateful autumn of 1987: Bork, a preeminent conservative scholar, resplendent Yale Law professor, and towering intellectual giant, was lobbed a total soft-serve of a softball from fellow Republican, Alan Simpson of the great state of Wyoming: “Why do you want to serve on the Supreme Court?”
To which Bork replied, publicly, in front of all those whirling cameras and microphones, live on C-SPAN before millions of watching Americans: “It would be an intellectual feast.”
What an absolute legend.
The man desired to preside over the highest court in all the land not out of a sense of duty or wanting to help his fellow American citizen or higher purpose or to do any corporeal good in the actual, material world. But rather: It was a tremendous intellectual challenge. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to grapple with titanic struggles of legal scholarship and the foremost quintessential questions of our times.
I should add– Bork also answered numerous other questions during those 1987 hearings extremely honestly, giving remarkably detailed replies on matters of abortion, religion, and race-relations. The man was endlessly curious and relentlessly honest. He was also, in the end, categorically rejected by a vote of 58 to 42– the largest margin of defeat for a SCOTUS nominee in the history of the Supreme Court, an ignominious record that still stands to this day. His defeat, in fact, gave rise to the addition of a new verb in the Oxford English Dictionary: Getting “Borked.”
Bork died of complications from heart disease on December 19, 2012. Mr. Bork– personally, I’m glad you never made it to the Supreme Court. But I really admire that you never withdrew your name (a coward’s move), even when you knew that defeat was inevitable. You lived and died on your beliefs and I applaud the strength of your convictions. Thank you for being who you were.