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.