.- Judge Robert H. Bork, a Catholic convert whose defeated Supreme Court nomination helped ensure the continued dominance of legal abortion in the U.S., died Wednesday morning at the age of 85.
“We will remember him with great fondness,” Ave Maria School of Law President and Dean Eugene R. Milhizer told CNA Dec. 19. “Judge Bork was a national figure, a very important jurist, writer and academic. It was a real privilege to be a colleague of his at the law school.”
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins praised Bork as “a fellow champion of the sanctity of human life.”
He cited the judge’s “great respect for the text and history of the constitution” and his philosophy of judicial restraint.
“His brilliant legal mind also saw the truth of Christianity, and in his later years Judge Bork grew closer in his relationship with Jesus. His deep faith and trust in God is an example for all of us,” Perkins said.
Bork died at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, Va. from complications of heart ailments, the Associated Press reports.
President Ronald Reagan’s nomination of Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987 met with unprecedented political opposition. The vote to confirm him failed by a margin of 58-42.
Bork’s supporters cited his judicial scholarship as a Yale law professor and his experience as a U.S. Court of Appeals judge. Many supporters sympathized with his “original intent” judicial philosophy and charged that opponents used character assassination to defeat his nomination.
Bork’s opponents cited his criticisms of federal court decisions that declared contraceptives, abortion and pornography to be constitutional rights. His criticism of federal civil rights legislation, women’s rights, and his service in the Nixon administration also drew strong opposition.
After the defeat of Bork’s nomination, President Reagan successfully nominated Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kennedy voted to uphold legal abortion in the 1993 Supreme Court decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which was decided by a 6-3 vote.
Kennedy also helped advance homosexual causes, declaring in a 1996 ruling that sexual orientation is a legally protected class and in 2003 ruling that consensual gay sex is constitutionally protected. Both decisions helped set precedents for the advance of “gay marriage.”
Milhizer said Bork’s stress on the “faithful interpretation of the Constitution” would have led him to oppose many questionable judicial decisions.
“It’s when you get away from the plain meaning of the Constitution and when judges begin to legislate and become more inventive that you find things like the right to abortion and the recent Obamacare decision,” he said.
Following the controversy over his nomination, Bork resigned from the bench and joined conservative think tanks including the American Enterprise Institute and the Hudson Institute. He wrote three bestselling books including the 1996 work “Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline.”
Bork was married twice. He was married to his first wife, the former Claire Davidson, for almost 30 years before her death in 1980. In 1982 he married Mary Ellen Pohl, a former Catholic nun.
Bork, a former atheist who had been raised Presbyterian, converted to Catholicism in 2003 at the age of 76. Monsignor William Awalt baptized him at a Mass in the chapel of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C.
“There is an advantage in waiting until you’re 76 to be baptized, because you’re forgiven all of your prior sins. Plus, at that age you’re not likely to commit any really interesting or serious sins,” he told the National Catholic Register’s Tim Drake in 2003.
He said that he found evidence of the existence of God “highly persuasive,” such as the arguments appealing to the design of the universe and the biological cell.
He found the number of witnesses to Jesus Christ’s Resurrection be “compelling” and considered the Resurrection to be “a solid historical fact.” He said the Catholic Church is “the Church that Christ established” and though it is “always in trouble” it has “stayed more orthodox than almost any church I know of.”
Bork also credited his wife Mary Ellen for helping encourage his conversion.
The judge was the first law professor named to Ave Maria School of Law and taught there for more than four years.
Milhizer said Bork was “someone who deeply believed in ideas” and who “fit very comfortably and very well at an orthodox Catholic law school.”
The announcement of Bork as an Ave Maria School of Law faculty member helped attract “many outstanding students” and gave the school “instant credibility” among the Catholic legal education community and within the broader legal culture, Milhizer recalled.