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Judge Bork, who lost fierce fight for high court nomination, dies
Catholic News Service photoJudge Joseph Nolan, granddaughter Molly Nolan, Judge Robert Bork and wife Mary Ellen Bork attend the Red Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston in 2004. The annual Mass is celebrated for members of the legal profession.
Catholic News Service photo
Judge Joseph Nolan, granddaughter Molly Nolan, Judge Robert Bork and wife Mary Ellen Bork attend the Red Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston in 2004. The annual Mass is celebrated for members of the legal profession.
Catholic News Service


ARLINGTON, Va. — Judge Robert Bork, former circuit judge, U.S. solicitor general and 1987 Supreme Court judicial nominee, died Dec. 19 at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington of complications from heart disease. He was 85. Bork became a Catholic in 2003 at age 76.

In an interview with the National Catholic Register after he joined the Catholic Church, Bork said: "There is an advantage in waiting until you're 76 to be baptized, because you're forgiven all of your prior sins. Plus, at that age you're not likely to commit any really interesting or serious sins."

His funeral Mass was scheduled for Dec. 22 at St. John the Beloved Catholic Church in McLean, followed by interment at Fairfax Memorial Park.

Bork, who was a U.S. Circuit Court judge for the District of Columbia from 1982 until 1988, was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan in 1987. He had publicly made known his objections to the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade, which legalized abortion, disagreeing with the court's decision based on a constitutional right to privacy. He also had criticized some aspects of civil rights laws.

After a fierce confirmation fight, Bork was rejected by the Democratic-led U.S. Senate in a 58-42 vote.

The verb "bork" was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2002 and defined as: "to defame or vilify (a person) systematically, especially in the mass media, usually with the aim of preventing his or her appointment to public office; to obstruct or thwart (a person) in this way."

Before the failed nomination to the Supreme Court, Bork had gained notoriety in 1973 as U.S. solicitor general for firing Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox under President Richard Nixon's orders.

Nixon ordered Cox's firing for demanding the release of Oval Office tape recordings. Attorney General Elliott Richardson and his deputy refused to do so.

Bork was born in Pittsburgh March 1, 1927. He received his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Chicago and spent nearly 20 years teaching constitutional law at Yale University. Two of his constitutional law students were Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

His first wife, Claire Davidson Bork, died in 1980. In 1982, he married Mary Ellen Pohl, a former member of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She was in the community 1965-1981. In his 2003 interview with the National Catholic Register, Bork said his wife introduced him to the Catholic faith when he started going to Sunday Mass with her. During his childhood, he said, he went to a Presbyterian church but added that "our faith wasn't terribly important growing up."

When asked if there was anything particular that pulled him to the Catholic Church, Bork said he "found the evidence of the existence of God highly persuasive, as well as the arguments from design both at the macro level of the universe and the micro level of the cell."

After leaving the bench in 1988, Bork was affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute and the Hudson Institute. He wrote in conservative journals and wrote more than half a dozen books, including: "Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline" in 1996 and "Coercing Virtue: The Worldwide Rule of Judges" in 2003.

Last spring, Bork was named to be part of an advisory committee for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in a statement called his longtime friend "one of the most influential legal scholars of the past 50 years."

Bork's "impact on legal thinking" with regard to antitrust and constitutional law "was profound and lasting," said Scalia, who added that he was "a good man and a loyal citizen."

Besides his wife, Mary Ellen, of McLean, Bork is survived by three children from his first marriage, Robert, Charles and Ellen, and two grandchildren.



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