Commentary Magazine


John Bolton on Robert Bork

Our friend John R. Bolton writes eloquently about Bob Bork on the website of the American Enterprise Institute, where both worked. Here’s his take in part: 

Bob Bork was my antitrust professor at Yale Law School in 1972-73, where he was one of a small band of conservative/libertarian students and teachers….So few were our numbers at Yale Law that when the White House announced Bob’s name for Solicitor General, Ralph Winter joked that the first sentence in the Yale Daily News coverage should read:  “Yesterday, President Nixon nominated twenty percent of all the conservatives at Yale Law School to be Solicitor General.”  Bob himself could have come up with that line, his sense of humor being wry and self-deprecating….

One of Bob’s most important services to our country is also one of the most misunderstood, during the “Saturday Night Massacre.” When Nixon gave Attorney General Elliot Richardson the order to fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, Richardson resigned, as he had committed to do in his Senate confirmation hearings if the White House ever tried to interfere with Cox’s investigation. Deputy AG William Ruckelshaus also resigned, as he had similarly pledged to do. 

By virtue of these resignations, Bork, the third-ranking official at the Department of Justice, became Acting Attorney General.  Although he had been confirmed before the Watergate affair had become an issue, and never been asked to mae such a pledge, Bork told Richardson and Ruckelshaus that he thought he should also resign.  They urged him not to, because then the entire top leadership of the Department might have followed suit, and the country plunged into a constitutional crisis the likes of which we had never seen.

Richardson and Ruckelshaus urged him to fire Cox to preserve the Department’s legitimacy.  Said Richardson:  “You’ve got the gun now, Bob. It’s your duty to pull the trigger.” Bork did fire Cox, and paid for it the rest of his life…..

Our country will greatly miss Bob Bork. He was a friend and inspiration to many at AEI and around the country.  He never regretted the consequences of standing by his philosophical principles. Why else have them?

Read the whole thing.