Conservative Icon and Former Federal Judge Robert Bork Dies at 85

Conservative icon Robert Bork, whose views on strict constructionism were targeted in a failed Supreme Court nomination, has died at the age of 85.

Bork died early Wednesday from complications from heart disease, report the Washington Post and the New York Times. The Post describes Bork as “a major architect of the conservative rebuttal to what he considered liberal judicial activism.”

“In his writings and in debates on legal doctrine, the burly, bearded, chain-smoking ex-Marine was sharply confrontational,” the Post says. “But friends and enemies alike found him a man of great charm, compassion and intellect, with a wit so sharp a close friend once called it dangerous.”

Bork was a former federal appeals judge, law professor and solicitor general who carried out orders to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Bork’s Supreme Court nomination failed in 1987 after opponents portrayed him as extremist. His comment that serving on the court would be an “intellectual feast” was criticized as indicating a lack of compassion for the people whose problems led to the court cases.

Bork advocated strict constructionism and originalism, the view that the Constitution should be interpreted based on the framers’ values, the Times says. In particular, he opposed the view that the Constitution contained a right of privacy protecting a right to abortion or contraceptives.

The rejection of his Supreme Court bid led to the phrase “getting Borked” and changed the nominations process, the Times says. “The success of the anti-Bork campaign is widely seen to have shifted the tone and emphasis of Supreme Court nominations since then, giving them an often strong political cast and making it hard, many argue, for a nominee with firmly held views ever to get confirmed,” its obituary says.

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