Dec. 20, 2012
Yesterday, a conservative icon and one of the brightest legal scholars met his Maker.
Judge Robert Bork died on Dec. 19 at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington County of complications from heart disease. He was 85.
I never met Mr. Bork in person, but I met his mind and his books at the rather tender age of 14 years. I credit (and teasingly blame) my thoughtful father—who doubled as my history teacher. Dad planted the seeds of political curiosity and nurtured them with his ”you-go-girl” encouragement.
What started as an 8th grade class assignment—writing letters to one’s Congressman—led to a larger adventure. I admit to sifting through Slouching Towards Gomorrah and The Tempting of America in search of good footnote-able quotes (as any junior high student is wont to do). What emerged? A rather passionate and precocious letter to Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen sharing my concern about judicial activism.
The Lutheran Brotherhood plucked my letter out of its pile and invited me to Washington, DC as their New Jersey representative in the RespecTeen National Youth Forum. I made my debut on the talk-show circuit, on the O’Reilly Factor—a rather twiggy girl, trembling behind a large pair of glasses. Mr. O’Reilly was rather nice to me and told me that if they didn’t listen to me in Washington, I should let him know.
You’ll have to take my word for it, because my VHS copy of the segment has been mercifully misplaced amid the family archives. I do, however, live with the mild anxiety that some “friend,” somewhere, will produce said clip at a distinctly inopportune moment. For any such creative folks reading this post: this should not be construed as a dare.
My precocious advocacy slowed down a bit—and most people in my life breathed a sigh of relief. But the little seeds did grow into something larger. By 2005, I was a Witherspoon Fellow, reflecting on how judicial temperament mattered, when reviewing the nomination of John Roberts for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court: “Judicial Activism and Suggestions for Senators.”
In the ensuing few years, I served three members of Congress: Rep. Jim Ryun (KS-2), Rep. Bill Sali (ID-01), and Rep. Bob Inglis (SC-04). Ironically, I became the Hill staffer who took the meetings with the next generation of junior constituent advocates. I had to break through my own cynicism about the political process (no, the Congressman didn’t get the chance to read almost any of the letters… that was my job). But I learned to convey the lesson I had learned a decade earlier—political advocacy helps us begin to take ownership of this great American experiment.
Many people have inspired me to serve in public policy. I have parents and teachers to thank. But I also want to say thank you to Judge Bork. In closing, I leave you with one of his quotes:
The judicial adoption of the tenets of modern liberalism has produced a crisis of legitimacy. Contrary to the plan of the American government, the Supreme Court has usurped the powers of the people and their elected representatives. We are no longer free to make our own fundamental moral and cultural decisions because the Court overseas all such matters, when as as it chooses. The crisis of legitimacy occurs because the political nation has no way of responding. The Founders built into our government a system of checks and balances, carefully giving to the national legislature and the executive powers to check each other so as to avoid either executive or legislative tyranny. The Founders had no idea that a Court armed with a written Constitution and the power of judicial review could become not only the supreme legislature of the land but a legislature beyond the reach of the ballot box. Thinking of the Court as a minor institution, they provided no safeguards against its assumption of powers not legitimately its own and its consistent abuse of those powers. Congress and the President check and balance one another, but neither of them can stop the Courts adventures in making and enforcing left-wing policy.
He’s a little more bombastic than I remember as a kid. But he’s also rather prophetic.
Thank you and good night, Judge Bork.