Bork as verb and antonomasia
According to columnist William Safire, the first published use of bork as a verb was possibly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution of August 20, 1987. Safire defines to bork by reference "to the way Democrats savaged Ronald Reagan's nominee, the Appeals Court judge Robert H. Bork, the year before." Perhaps the best known use of the verb to bork occurred in July 1991 at a conference of the National Organization for Women in New York City. Feminist Florynce Kennedy addressed the conference on the importance of defeating the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying, "We're going to bork him. We're going to kill him politically ... This little creep, where did he come from?" Thomas was subsequently confirmed after one of the most divisive confirmation hearings in Supreme Court history.
In March 2002, the Oxford English Dictionary added an entry for the verb bork as U.S. political slang, with this definition: "To defame or vilify (a person) systematically, esp. 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." A 'bork'' is also an antonomasia for "conservative ideological extremist"
There was an earlier usage of bork as a passive verb, common among litigators in the D.C. Circuit: to "get borked"was to receive a conservative judicial decision with no justification in the law, reflecting their perception, later documented in the Cardozo Law Review, of Judge Bork's tendency to decide cases solely according to his ideology.
Bork (right) with President Ronald Reagan, 1987
President Reagan nominated Bork for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court on July 1, 1987 to replace Lewis Powell. A hotly contested United States Senate debate over Bork's nomination ensued. Opposition was partly fueled by civil rights and women's rights groups concerned with Bork's opposition to the authority claimed by the federal government to impose standards of voting fairness upon the states (at his confirmation hearings for the position of Solicitor General, he supported the rights of Southern states to impose a poll tax), and his stated desire to roll back civil rights decisions of the Warren and Burger courts. Bork was one of only three Supreme Court nominees, along with William Rehnquist and Samuel Alito, to ever be opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union.Bork was also criticized for being an "advocate of disproportionate powers for the executive branch of Government, almost executive supremacy",most notably, according to critics, for his role in the Saturday Night Massacre.
Before Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell's expected retirement on June 27, 1987, some Senate Democrats had asked liberal leaders to "form a 'solid phalanx' of opposition" if President Ronald Reagan nominated an "ideological extremist" to replace him, assuming it would tilt the court rightward. Democrats also warned Reagan there would be a fight if Bork were nominated.]Nevertheless, Reagan nominated Bork for the seat on July 1, 1987.
Following Bork's nomination to the Court, Sen. Ted Kennedy took to the Senate floor with a strong condemnation of Bork declaring:
Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is—and is often the only—protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy ... President Reagan is still our president. But he should not be able to reach out from the muck of Irangate, reach into the muck of Watergate and impose his reactionary vision of the Constitution on the Supreme Court and the next generation of Americans. No justice would be better than this injustice.
Bork responded, "There was not a line in that speech that was accurate." In an obituary of Kennedy, The Economist remarked that Bork may well have been correct, "but it worked." Bork also contended in his best-selling book, The Tempting of America, that the brief prepared for Sen. Joe Biden, head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, "so thoroughly misrepresented a plain record that it easily qualifies as world class in the category of scurrility."
Television advertisements produced by People For the American Way and narrated by Gregory Peck attacked Bork as an extremist. Kennedy's speech successfully fueled widespread public skepticism of Bork's nomination. The rapid response to Kennedy's "Robert Bork's America" speech stunned the Reagan White House, and the accusations went unanswered for two and a half months.
During debate over his nomination, Bork's video rental history was leaked to the press. His video rental history was unremarkable, and included such harmless titles as A Day at the Races, Ruthless People, and The Man Who Knew Too Much. Writer Michael Dolan, who obtained a copy of the hand-written list of rentals, wrote about it for the Washington City Paper. Dolan justified accessing the list on the ground that Bork himself had stated that Americans only had such privacy rights as afforded them by direct legislation. The incident led to the enactment of the 1988 Video Privacy Protection Act.
To pro-choice rights legal groups, Bork's originalist views and his belief that the Constitution does not contain a general "right to privacy" were viewed as a clear signal that, should he become a Justice on the Supreme Court, he would vote to reverse the Court's 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade. Accordingly, a large number of groups mobilized to press for Bork's rejection, and the resulting 1987 Senate confirmation hearings became an intensely partisan battle.
On October 23, 1987, the Senate denied Bork's confirmation, with 42 Senators voting in favor and 58 voting against. Two Democratic Senators, David Boren (D-OK) and Ernest Hollings (D-SC), voted in his favor, with 6 Republican Senators (John Chafee (R-RI), Bob Packwood (R-OR), Arlen Specter (R-PA), Robert Stafford (R-VT), John Warner (R-VA), and Lowell P. Weicker, Jr. (R-CT)) voting against him.
The vacant court seat Bork was nominated to eventually went to Judge Anthony Kennedy, who was unanimously approved by the Senate, 97-0. Bork, unhappy with his treatment in the nomination process, resigned his appellate-court judgeship in 1988.