Remembering Judge Robert Bork:
Conservative Legend and Leadership Institute Donor
By Morton Blackwell
The staff of the Leadership Institute honors generous donors who make the work of the Leadership Institute possible. We are saddened at the death of one of our long-time donors, conservative hero Robert Bork. The Leadership Institute received Judge Bork’s final donation just one day before he died. My staff and I honor Judge Bork, a stalwart for judicial conservatism.
Conservatives will remember Robert Bork as President Ronald Reagan’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987. I attended his recent funeral.
Along with other conservatives, I was thrilled when the president nominated Judge Bork. He graduated from the University of Chicago and was a professor at Yale Law School for over 15 years. This brilliant man, who served in the Marine Corps before and after obtaining his law degree, would be a boon to conservative principles and values on the Supreme Court.
But it was not to be.
Defender of the Constitution meets liberal onslaught
It soon became clear that the liberals in office were going to stop his nomination. Joe Biden, then Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, led the charge against Judge Bork.
Bork was criticized for stating that the Constitution should be interpreted as the framers originally intended. Rumors began to circulate that the Reagan administration might quietly ask Bork to request that his name be withdrawn.
But Bork—and conservatives—wanted a vote, because conservatives had every intention of holding senators who voted against him accountable.
During the nomination proceedings, I wrote a personal letter to Ronald Reagan, asking him to make sure the Senate voted on Bork’s nomination. I thought it would be a terrible mistake for the Bork nomination to be withdrawn—there had to be a recorded vote for many good reasons.
About a week later, I received a letter back from President Reagan. He assured me that he intended to keep the nomination active and force the Senate to vote on it.
A liberal-controlled Senate rejected Judge Bork’s nomination in a hotly-contested 58-42 vote.
Bork: Friend of Reagan, Friend of Morton
I was happy to receive that letter of assurance from the President, but I was by no means confident that he had actually seen the letter—it might have just been drafted in the Presidential Correspondence office.
Some years later, a friend was researching at the Reagan library. There, he found my original letter to the President, the President’s hand-written draft of a response to me, and a copy of the final letter which was typed word-for-word as Reagan had drafted it. It moved me to learn that President Reagan had personally penned his response to me.
LI and Bork: mutual support of conservative principles
My acquaintance with Robert Bork goes back to the 1970s, long before the Supreme Court nomination. While Robert Bork was a professor of law at Yale University and I was on the U.S. Senate staff, I brought his son Charles Bork to intern for me.
After Bork’s rejection by the Senate, Leadership Institute graduates led a 200-strong protest against liberal Republican Arlen Specter, who along with Senator Biden and Senator Ted Kennedy, opposed Bork’s nomination.
In 1995, a Leadership Institute graduate at the University of Oklahoma battled and outwitted liberal Professor Anita Hill (the one who lobbed allegations against Justice Clarence Thomas) to bring Bork to standing room-only lectures at that university.
And since that year, Judge Bork has been a faithful donor to the Leadership Institute. But not only a donor, Bork also gave talks to gatherings of Leadership Institute donors.
Robert Bork believed in the Leadership Institute’s work of training conservative activists and students on college campuses throughout the nation.
My staff and I thank him for his 17 years of sustained and loyal support. Our condolences go to the family and friends of the Honorable Robert Bork.