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How Robert Bork's Legacy Will Live On for Lawyers

By Andrew Lu on December 20, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Famed conservative jurist Robert Bork died Wednesday. The former lawyer, federal judge, solicitor general, and academic was 85 years old.

To most, Bork was perhaps best known for what he didn't accomplish: He never made it onto the U.S. Supreme Court.

However, as an attorney and legal theorist, Bork contributed much to the modern-day conservative movement, and beyond. Here are just three ways that Robert Bork's legacy will live on, especially for lawyers:

  1. Original Intent. Bork was a leading advocate for the conservative movement dubbed "original intent," as NPR reminds us. This school of thought argues that judges should go no further in interpreting the Constitution than the words of the document itself. In other words, judges should leave their interpretations and opinion out of it.

  2. Controversial Conservative. As a judge and academic, Bork left a long paper trail of controversial legal writings. He opposed the 1964 civil rights law that required hotels, restaurants and other businesses to serve people of all races. He opposed a 1965 Supreme Court decision that struck down a state law that barred contraceptives for married couples. And he said there was no right to privacy in the Constitution. Bork also opposed Supreme Court decisions on gender equality.

  3. Confirmation Battle. For those too young to know who Robert Bork the lawyer was, you may still have heard the term "getting borked." When President Reagan nominated Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987, Bork's trail of controversial opinions and decisions would come to haunt him. Liberals and civil rights advocates launched an all-out campaign to defeat his nomination, and were ultimately successful. To this day, the term "to bork" even has an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary: It means "to defame or vilify a person systematically," NPR reports.

But perhaps Bork's greatest legacy for lawyers will have nothing to do with the conservative agenda that he became associated with later in life. Prior to championing the conservative fight, Bork made his name in antitrust, reports The Washington Post. In fact, Bork was so influential that many legal scholars consider Bork to have defined modern-day antitrust law.

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