Honoring Robert Bork
This week, America said goodbye to Judge Robert Bork, a giant of originalist thought, a stalwart champion of the unborn, and an early casualty of modern liberalism’s love for defamation.
Nominated to the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan in 1987, Bork was met with an overwhelming smear campaign by Senate Democrats and the press, who attempted to paint him as a dangerous extremist. The attack was most infamously captured in the late Senator Ted Kennedy’s tirade:
Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit down at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of democracy.
The result: rejection by a 58-42 vote, his surname becoming a synonym for partisan character assassination, and the pro-abortion Justice Anthony Kennedy casting two decades’ worth of votes in his place.
Though unable to shape the country’s legal direction, Bork spent the rest of his life making valuable contributions to American policy and thought, exploring law, philosophy, and culture on the lecture circuit, in print, and as a judicial adviser to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.
In the abortion chapter of Slouching Towards Gomorrah, Bork demolished the constitutional legitimacy of the “right to choose”:
The extra-constitutional individualism that undergirds the “constitutional” right to abortion was made clearest in the joint opinion of three Justices in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. These Justices, whose votes created a majority to sustain most of Roe, invented a heretofore unheard-of constitutional right to “personal dignity and autonomy.” They attempted to explain the appearance of this previously unsuspected right by saying: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own conception of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Beliefs about such matters were said to define “personhood,” which is to be protected from state compulsion. It is not recorded that any American government, from the founding on, has ever thought it worthwhile to compel anyone’s concept of meaning or of the mystery of human life. What this judicial grandiloquence means, aside from a right to have an abortion, nobody knows. But then hymns to radical individualism are necessarily murky and obscure. This particular one is known in the trade as “the mystery passage.”
…revealed that he too was a pro-life convert:
For years I adopted, without bothering to think, the attitude common among secular, affluent, university-educated people who took the propriety of abortion for granted, even when it was illegal. The practice’s illegality, like that of drinking alcohol during Prohibition, was thought to reflect merely unenlightened prejudice or religious conviction, the two being regarded as much the same. From time to time, someone would say that it was a difficult moral problem, but there was rarely any doubt how the problem should be resolved. I remember a woman at Yale saying, without any disagreement from those around her, that “The fetus isn’t nothing, but I am for the mother’s right to abort it.” I probably nodded. Most of us had a vague and unexamined notion that while the fetus wasn’t nothing, it was also not fully human. The slightest reflection would have suggested that non-human or semi-human blobs of tissue do not magically turn into human beings.
…and warned of abortion’s broader implications for society:
The systematic killing of unborn children in huge numbers is part of a general disregard for human life that has been growing for some time. Abortion by itself did not cause that disregard, but it certainly deepens and legitimates the nihilism that is spreading in our culture and finds killing for convenience acceptable. We are crossing lines, at first slowly and now with rapidity: killing unborn children for convenience; removing tissue from live fetuses; contemplating creating embryos for destruction in research; considering taking organs from living anencephalic babies; experimenting with assisted suicide; and contemplating euthanasia. Abortion has coarsened us. If it is permissible to kill the unborn human for convenience, it is surely permissible to kill those thought to be soon to die for the same reason. And it is inevitable that many who are not in danger of imminent death will be killed to relieve their families of burdens. Convenience is becoming the theme of our culture. Humans tend to be inconvenient at both ends of their lives.
Though the Democrat majority in the 100th Congress means that Bork’s confirmation would have been unlikely in any case, the left’s success in demagoging him helped earn “borking” a permanent spot in their tactical arsenal. Since then, no lie has been too foul for a liberal to level against someone he disagrees with or for the press to unquestioningly magnify, too often getting their way by intimidating enough people into submission rather than by winning arguments.
In the wake of Robert Bork’s death, only one course can fully honor his memory: stand up to the brand of demagoguery that bears his name and delegitimize those who would personally destroy good people in the name of partisanship or ideology.