Robert H. Bork, whose failed Supreme Court nomination in 1987 infuriated conservatives and politicized the confirmation process for the ensuing decades, died Wednesday at the age of 85.For the incurious among us, Bork's true legacy was the firing of Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox:
The former Yale law professor and judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit had a history of heart problems and had been in poor health for some time.
On May 19, 1973, Cox took a leave of absence from Harvard Law School to accept appointment as the first Watergate special prosecutor. Cox's appointment was a key condition set by the leadership of the U.S. Senate for the confirmation of Elliot Richardson as the new attorney general of the United States, succeeding Richard G. Kleindienst, who had resigned during the spring of 1973, as a result of the Watergate scandal. That summer, Cox learned with the rest of America about the secret taping system installed in the White House on orders from President Richard M. Nixon. During the next few months, Cox, the United States Senate Watergate Committee, and U.S. District Judge John J. Sirica struggled with the Nixon Administration over whether Nixon could be compelled to yield those tapes in response to a grand jury subpoena. When Sirica ordered Nixon to comply with the committee's and Cox's demands, the President offered Cox a compromise: instead of producing the tapes, he would allow the Senator John Stennis (a Democrat from Mississippi) to listen to the tapes, with the help of a transcript prepared for him by the White House, and Stennis would then prepare summaries of the tapes' contents. Cox rejected this compromise on Friday, October 19, 1973. On Saturday, October 20, 1973, Cox held a press conference to explain his decision.Bork was a crypto-facsist swine. I'll not shed a single tear for him.
That evening, in an event dubbed the Saturday Night Massacre by journalists, President Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to dismiss Cox. Rather than comply with this order, Attorney General Richardson resigned, leaving his second-in-command, Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus in charge of the Justice Department. Ruckelshaus likewise refused to dismiss Cox, and he, too, resigned. These resignations left Solicitor General Robert Bork as the highest-ranking member of the Justice Department; insisting that he believed the decision unwise but also that somebody had to obey the president's orders, Bork dismissed Cox. Bork also considered submitting his resignation, but Richardson and Ruckelshaus dissuaded him from resigning, arguing that Bork had to remain in office to ensure continuity of the administration of the Justice Department. Upon being dismissed, Cox stated, "whether ours shall be a government of laws and not of men is now for Congress and ultimately the American people to decide." His successor as special prosecutor was Leon Jaworski, named by Bork.
The dismissal of Cox suggested the use of independent counsel, prosecutors specifically appointed to investigate official misconduct. Ultimately, Congress enacted a law to provide for a procedure appointing independent counsels, a statute that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 1986. This statute, which had an expiration date inserted on its original enactment, expired without renewal.
Ultimately, on August 8, 1974, after the U.S. Supreme Court voted by 8 to 0 to reject Nixon's claims of executive privilege and release the tapes (with then Associate Justice William H. Rehnquist recusing himself because, as an assistant attorney general during Nixon's first term, he had taken part in internal executive-branch discussions of the scope of executive privilege), Nixon announced his decision to resign as President.