The Magazine

Servant of the Law

The experience, and good sense, of Robert Bork.

Mar 4, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 24 • By J. HARVIE WILKINSON III
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It is often difficult for my liberal friends to fathom why the rejection of Robert Bork’s Supreme Court nomination hit the conservative community so lastingly, and so hard. It is not that we are brittle, or fail to recognize that life moves on. It is not that we fail to understand the case against him (i.e., that he was too fond of abstraction, and somehow failed to fully grasp or comprehend the lives of Americans outside his sphere). It is simply that an injustice was done.

One need not subscribe to Bork’s theory of originalism to believe that there surely should have been a place for him on the U.S. Supreme Court. He would not have been the whole Court, but simply one of nine. His exquisite and powerful intellect would have been a thing to behold. He would have joined the great debate on whether the empathetic selection of winners and losers is a task best assigned to the elected representatives who enact law or to the appointed judges who apply and interpret it. And he would have brought home, as few others could, the full extent to which this nation’s fortunes rise or fall with the rule of law. Even those who disagreed with him would have been been required to reengage and reassess, and the American legal dialogue would have been immeasurably enhanced.

So much for the what-ifs and the might-have-beens. Was his influence greater precisely because he never served on the Court? This slender volume, completed shortly before his death, may not be the equal of the magisterial A Time to Speak (2008), which reminds the reader in its subtitle that the 750-page volume represents no more than the selected writings of Robert Bork. But Saving Justice is a warm, generous, honest memoir—-a fitting final contribution from a man who served his fellow citizens well during a long and distinguished life.

J. Harvie Wilkinson III, who sits on the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is the author, most recently, of Cosmic Constitutional Theory: Why Americans Are Losing Their Inalieanable Right to Self-Governance.