A great man, Robert Bork, died today at the age of 85.
Most of the news coverage will focus on a relatively minor Watergate-related event and will mischaracterize the major event when the U.S. Senate rejected his nomination to the United States Supreme Court in 1987. Few will emphasize those aspects of his life that I would argue have had the most positive impact on American law and politics.
Judge Bork changed this soon-to-be former Democrat’s life soon after my move to Atlanta in the Summer of 2001, but had already impacted it even while I was still a cowardly liberal. Judge Bork’s opinions while on the federal Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia were frequently cited with respect by many of my professors as I matriculated at the University of South Carolina School of Law in the early 1980s. Bork was the recognized leader of a return to the judicial philosophy respecting the United States Constitution as written rather than as a “living” document to provide cover for the “ratification” of amendments to it by five liberal lawyers in black robes.
It was obvious to this young law student that any document from the Constitution to my automobile loan agreement could only be morally interpreted by resort to the actual words and intent of the parties to an agreement. But as a budding young liberal wanting to be accepted as a fellow elitist who wanted my pro-choice rights to have my cake and eat it too, I joined the club; always knowing that both abortion and equating the Equal Protection Clause with what a majority of the court says no matter the context, were constitutional non sequiturs.
While a young trial lawyer and active Democrat a few years later, I looked on in horror as Senator Ted “The Swimmer” Kennedy led Democrats in dredging up then Solicitor General Bork’s “Saturday Night Massacre” firing of Watergate special counsel Archibald Cox; mischaracterizing Bork’s criticism’s of Brown vs. Board of Education; and in claiming that his appointment to the nation’s highest court would usher in “Robert Bork’s America, [where] there [would be] no room at the inn for blacks and no place in the Constitution for women.”
Yes, the Reagan Recovery that would last 25 years had already begun, but I think my conservative epiphany that followed soon after the reading of his books in 2001, began while watching this great man be defamed by the Democratic Party in 1987. But for the next 14 years, I remained too timid to confront the burden of abandoning the political and legal “principles” of my increasingly unpalatable political party and profession, as I then saw them.
But soon after the deaths of several family members and divorce in the late 1990s, I left my South Carolina home for opportunities in Atlanta where I accepted a position with a former HUD lawyer needing help in expanding his private practice while also preparing for corporate work for financial services clients. Coincidentally, the former HUD lawyer represented a local county legal organ newspaper, where my second career as an op-ed columnist began, but I digress.
Very soon after my association with the Atlanta firm, I was assigned the task or preparing criminal cases for trial, manning the branch office in a nearby county and making any “rain” that I could. While travelling with my boss on I-20 between offices one day, I went on one of my liberal rants. The boss looked at me and said he couldn’t take all that negativity and by the way Mike, please read this book by trial lawyer Gerry Spence and named two books by Robert Bork that might be helpful.
Ironically, I don’t think I had my heart in whatever that liberal rant concerned that day, as I had become very much disillusioned with liberals in Congress since the 1980s and Bill Clinton since at least his pardoning of Hillary’s Puerto Rican terrorists. In fact, I had almost voted against Al Gore only seven months earlier, so turned off was I by his far left, multiple personalities, and “snippy” Florida performance in the Election of 2000. But we still respected the Newt/Clinton economy and so held our nose and wrongly rejected Dubya the first time.
I read the Spence book that very evening and learned some good new information to supplement my already vast knowledge of criminal defense trial lawyering. My ego told me that I could write a book that would help Gerry more, but I was more intrigued by the invitation to read Bork’s books, as I had always respected him. I went to the public library the next day and checked out Bork’s The Tempting of America: The Political Seduction of the Law (1990) and Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline (1996).
Tempting was a tour de force on various schools of Constitutional interpretation with an impressive defense of textualism and originalism. But I already agreed with Bork on this. I had KNOWINGLY advocated the liberal, elitist “living” constitution out of intellectual pride.
Then I read Slouching, and at once, all of my doubts about what liberalism had become in the law and American society writ large became clear to me. It literally changed my life. Bork’s words and that I was no longer in my hometown where abandoning my lifelong commitment to the Democratic Party would be seen as a betrayal to so many close to me, gave me the courage to declare myself a conservative and a Republican within days, even to the consternation of the new female love of my life.
As the years have gone by, the impact of Bork’s Slouching has come to more clearly represent a spiritual re-awakening in my own life, as much as a political one. I was, after all, already an economics major that had long favored tax cuts and been mugged by the reality of failed liberal policies at home and abroad. But Bork also touched my soul with his strong Christian faith, which rejuvenated mine.
It is a shame that there never was a Justice Bork. Had there been, the slaughter of innocents in the womb may have been interrupted and private property rights made more secure. But after his nomination was rejected, he not only wrote the above books and others, but was also a major force within the Federalist Society that built, over time, what I have often dubbed the “Bork Bench” of conservative judges that Presidents Bush used to give us Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and John Roberts. And despite Roberts’ Obamacare transgression, constitutional jurisprudence is in much better shape today than it would have been with more Souters.
Robert Bork left America a much better place for his having passed our way. He will be missed but his legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of me and many others he touched with his words, work and rulings from the bench.
“One man with courage makes a majority.” – Andrew Jackson
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