MCLEAN, VA.: Robert H. Bork, who stepped in to fire the Watergate prosecutor at Richard Nixon’s behest and whose failed 1987 nomination to the Supreme Court helped draw the modern boundaries of cultural fights over abortion, civil rights and other issues, has died. He was 85.
Bork died Wednesday at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, Va., from complications of heart ailments.
Brilliant, blunt and piercingly witty, Robert Heron Bork had a long career in the law that took him from respected academic to a totem of conservative grievance.
Along the way, Bork was accused of being a partisan hatchet man for Nixon when, as the third-ranking official at the Justice Department, he fired Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox in the Saturday Night Massacre of 1973. Attorney General Elliot Richardson had resigned rather than fire Cox. The next in line, William Ruckelshaus, refused to fire Cox and was himself fired.
Bork’s drubbing during his Senate nomination hearings made him a hero to the right and a rallying cry for younger conservatives.
The Senate experience embittered Bork and hardened many of his conservative positions, even as it gave him prominence as an author and long popularity on the conservative speaking circuit.
The process begat a verb, “to bork,” meaning vilification of a nominee on ideological grounds.
Bork, known until his death as “Judge Bork,” served a relatively short tenure on the bench. He was a judge on the nation’s most prestigious appellate panel, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, from 1982 until 1988, when he resigned in the wake of the bitter Supreme Court nomination fight. Earlier, Bork had been a private attorney, Yale Law School professor and a Republican political appointee.