Former federal judge Robert Bork [official profile] died Wednesday at the age of 85. Bork was an influential judge for the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit for seven years and was a strong proponent of the legal theory of originalism [backgrounder], an interpretive principle that instructs judges to seek the "original intent" when interpreting the US Constitution. Bork was nominated to the US Supreme Court in 1987 by then-president Ronald Reagan to succeed retiring justice Lewis Powell, a well known moderate and "swing vote" on the court, while Bork was seen as staunchly conservative. The nomination went notoriously poorly and became one of the first Supreme Court nomination processes to be dominated by the media. Several advocacy groups lobbied against Bork, and his judicial record and personal life was scrutinized, including his wife's Catholic beliefs. Bork testified bluntly and openly disagreed with the reasoning of Roe v. Wade, which only incited liberal advocacy groups to rally against him harder. Bork eventually lost the nomination by a vote of 42 to 58. After another failed nomination of Douglas Ginsburg, Reagan successfully nominated Justice Anthony Kennedy. Bork resigned his position on the DC Circuit shortly after the Senate hearings and worked for conservative think-tanks and as a legal scholar. After his failed Senate confirmation, the word bork [OED backgrounder] came to mean, "obstruct (someone, especially a candidate for public office) by systematically defaming or vilifying them."
Bork served in several positions in the US Government, including as one of former president Richard Nixon's Solicitor Generals. Bork aided the Saturday Night Massacre [WP report], as acting Attorney General by firing Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. Before that, Bork was known as the eminent authority on antitrust law, and his book The Antitrust Paradox: A Policy at War with Itself [Google backgrounder] is credited with creating a shift in antitrust law interpretation by suggesting that mergers benefit consumers, and consumers should be seen as the driving force in antitrust cases. Justice Antonin Scalia, a former colleague of Bork's from the DC Circuit, issued a statement [WSJ report] on Bork's passing, praising his insight on antitrust and constitutional law and commending him as a good man and loyal citizen.