America has lost one of its greatest legal thinkers. Robert H. Bork, a jurist, a teacher and a father, passed away Wednesday morning, but his ideas will live on.
Judge Bork is best known as the federal judge liberals most feared to see elevated to the Supreme Court. It was not because of his demeanor — Judge Bork was a kind and thoughtful man. It was not for any deficiency in intellect, as even his most committed opponents couldn’t deny the power of his mind. Instead, the left brought to bear a then-unprecedented onslaught of personal invective in a coordinated campaign to deny the promotion President Reagan sought to give him a quarter-century ago.
As he always did, the Gipper knew how best to express the motivation behind the Democratic fight against Judge Bork’s nomination: “I can’t help suspecting that it is the strength of Judge Bork’s judicial analysis that has driven some to try to defeat the man after failing to defeat his ideas. It would be a sorry day for this country if fear of an idea well expressed were to deny the country the wisdom of that idea.”
The left did succeed in keeping Judge Bork off the high-court bench, but in many ways this effort proved shortsighted. The controversy helped bring Judge Bork’s ideas to a wider audience, and today the concepts of constitutional originalism that he helped refine are stronger than they have ever been. His newfound fame helped his books fly off the shelves, including “Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline,” which outlines the intellectual underpinnings of the nation’s moral decay and “The Tempting of America,” which explains how the Constitution has been abused at the hands of the judicial branch.
Judge Bork understood the most important thing he could ever do would be to teach a new generation of lawyers how to right these wrongs. In 1999, he began teaching at the Ave Maria School of Law, an upstart institution founded on deep moral principles, where students learned a respect for federalism, the separation of powers and natural law, something more established schools avoid. Those influenced by him in the classroom and in the pages of his writings will continue to go on to become judges and justices. They will advance insofar as they share Judge Bork’s greatest trait: clarity of thought.
Clarity comes from approaching the problems of the day with the mind instead of emotions. Especially in response to tragedy, many are willing to embrace proposals that might make people feel good because they are “doing something,” even if the intended goal is never accomplished. Judge Bork’s advice for dealing with such circumstances is timeless. As he wrote in these pages last year, “The essence of conservatism is fidelity to the reality principle. Not for us, we pride ourselves, the utopian vaporings of the left. In times of stress, however, the temptation for conservatives is to reach for bromides to palliate their sufferings.” As long as we turn aside those tempting answers, the wisdom of his ideas will live on.
Rest in peace, Judge Bork.
The Washington Times
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