Robert Bork has died, and when someone like Robert Bork dies, the inevitable barrage of obituaries — in their collective effort, sometimes preprepared and these days more spontaneous, to quickly capture what made the man so controversial — becomes something of an art form. Here are the best attempts to describe the conservative legal icon so far:
The Weekly Standard: "withal, a great American":
Robert Bork was a major public figure. Bob Bork was also a wonderful man. His scintillating wit masked a deep kindness, and his real compassion was hidden (sometimes pretty well-hidden!) behind a wry and acerbic persona.
Commentary: "The most important legal scholar of his day":
Perhaps the most important legal scholar of his day, whose work on matters ranging from anti-trust to the complexities of privacy laws was both accessible and deeply considered, Bork was exactly the sort of choice serious-minded people should have welcomed. The Court had been in large measure the province of lightweights who were considered politically safe or somehow controllable, men who possessed no intellectual compass and were either the captives of their clerks or of the conventional wisdom.
Chicago Tribune: "One of the few Americans to give his name to a verb":
"To bork" was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2002 with the definition, "To defame or vilify (a person) systematically, especially 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."
The New York Times: "A bear of a man with a scraggly red beard":
Judge Bork, a bear of a man with a scraggly red beard and untamed frizz on a balding pate who liked to eat, drink and smoke for much of his adult life, handled himself poorly in front of the committee and failed to give doubters confidence. As Tom Shales, the television critic for The Washington Post, wrote of his testimony: “He looked, and talked, like a man who would throw the book at you — maybe like a man who would throw the book at the whole country.”
The Washington Post: "a disarming presence":
A 1987 Time magazine article reported that Judge Bork had a disarming presence, even with his political opponents. When one Justice Department official said that a decision would be made “over my dead body,” Judge Bork is said to have quipped, “To some of us, that sounded like the scenic route.”
The Wall Street Journal: "distinctly out of the ordinary":
Mr. Bork, looking distinctly out of the ordinary with his rotund frame and scraggly red beard, barely tried to sugarcoat his contempt for judges who found new "rights" lurking in the Constitution. Meanwhile, critics vilified him and tried to dig up dirt by investigating such ephemera as his video rentals.
On one NR cruise, in the cocktail lounge in the wee small hours, the pianist asked those of us who were closing out the bar if there were any number he’d like us to play as his last song. Bob piped up with “Bye Bye, Blackbird” and sat there contentedly as softly we all sang along: Pack up all my care and woe / There I go / Singing low… Rest in peace.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.