Who Hijacked Our Country

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Robert Bork: 1927 — 2012

Robert Bork, Richard Nixon’s solicitor general and thwarted — i.e. “Borked” — Supreme Court justice, has died.  Nobody ever accused him of being dumb, but he sure had some misguided ideas.  The Supreme Court was wrong to overturn a Connecticut law banning birth control; there is NO right of privacy implied in the Constitution — oooookay.

If you’re older than dirt, you probably remember Robert Bork from the Watergate scandal.  Watergate independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox subpoenaed President Nixon for copies of the infamous Watergate tapes.  Nixon responded by ordering Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Cox.  Richardson refused, and resigned in protest.  Nixon then ordered Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox.  Ruckelshaus likewise refused and resigned in protest.

The third time was the charm.  Nixon ordered Solicitor General Robert Bork to fire Archibald Cox, and Bork — being a Good German — followed hisss orderss and fired Cox.  This sequence of events — Saturday, October 20th, 1973 — became known as the Saturday Night Massacre.  And almost immediately, there was a bumper sticker saying “Nixon is a Cox Sacker.”

I didn’t hear or read anything else about Robert Bork until 1987 when Reagan nominated him to be a Supreme Court justice.  Congress rejected him, thereby coining the term “Borked,” past tense of the verb to Bork.

Conservatives had a mass tantrum that an intelligent, clearly qualified legal scholar would be rejected solely because of his political views.  And herein lies a certain irony, which millions of California residents will vouch for:  During this same period, California State Supreme Court Chief Justice Rose Bird was up for reconfirmation by the voters.

(California Supreme Court justices are appointed, but after a certain number of years their reconfirmation is put to a Yes or No vote by the public.  There’s hardly ever a No vote.)

Rose Bird ended up getting voted off the California Supreme Court solely because of her opposition to capital punishment.  So during this period, millions of California conservatives were simultaneously a) champing at the bit to get rid of Rose Bird because she was against capital punishment, and b) shocked and outraged that a Supreme Court justice would be voted down because of his beliefs.  Anyway, non-conservatives will probably pick up on the irony.

Nowadays terms like “Astroturf” are almost a cliché.  But this was less common in 1987, or less publicized anyway.  The successful PR campaign against Rose Bird was a joining of two forces:  corporate VIPs with more money than God but not much empathy from the general public, and the pro-death penalty sentiment which caught fire with the public but had no money.  Presto!

Rose Bird was considered “anti-business,” and one particular ruling had the corporate crowd in a mass pantytwist.  She ruled that shopping mall owners could not use trespassing laws to prevent petition circulators from soliciting signatures and charity groups from seeking donations on the premises of a shopping mall.  Unfortunately — for the moneyed set — there weren’t millions of Californians walking around all fired up over the “property rights” of shopping mall owners.  But when the VIPs teamed up their millions with the capital punishment groundswell, that was the end of Rose Bird’s career.

But remember now:  it was an outrage that Robert Bork was kept off the Supreme Court because of his political views.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The last person who was “Borked” was Harriet Miers and she was Borked by her own party. Regarding Rose Bird, the capitol punishment thing was trumped up, fueled by corporate money who was mad at her for some unfavorable tax decisions she made when she was with the state board of equalization. It was also an attack on the black members of the court even those who had endorsements from law enforcement (that’s the conservatives for you). She also pissed off the legal community, making her fellow justices use ordinary office furniture from the State warehouses rather then custom made. Stay at 2 star Hotels instead of 5 and fly Coach - imagine that?

Even Candidates running for schoolboards and dogcatcher had to denounce her as part of their platforms

You think campaigns are dirty now, consider this over 20 years ago when they showed a woman getting raped and said blame Rose Bird! Thankfully many TV Stations didn’t air it!

During the later administrations of Republican’s Deukmajin and Wilson, the death penalty became a litmus test for all future State Supreme nominees.


December 20, 2012 at 1:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


We may have stopped Bork but considering what we did get in Scalia, would Bork have been so bad?

It was the one time Democrats came together and used hard tactics on a nominee like the Republicans do all the time. If they have kept it up, we would have had a more moderate Supreme Court


December 20, 2012 at 9:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good riddance.

December 20, 2012 at 10:23 AM  
Blogger jadedj said...

No tears here from this "older than dirt" guy. Yeeeeeah...I had one of those bumper stickers.

December 20, 2012 at 2:21 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Erik: I didn't remember those other cases that Rose Bird ruled on. Mostly I remember her ruling that shopping malls couldn't evict charity groups and petition circulators, and that Big Business was up in arms over it.

I agree that Scalia is probably worse than Bork ever could have been.

Anonymous: Agreed.

jadedj: You had one of those bumper stickers? Cool. I don't remember if I actually saw any or if I just heard about it.

December 20, 2012 at 5:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I just remembered another Legasy of Bork

Because some reporters obtained a copy of his rental list from his local Video Store - Congress passed a law making such list private.

One of the few times they fought for privacy


December 21, 2012 at 6:24 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Erik: I remember that now. Rightwingers just love privacy when it's for VIPs against the riffraff.

December 21, 2012 at 7:25 PM  

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