MCLEAN, Va. — Robert H. Bork, who stepped in to fire the Watergate prosecutor at Richard Nixon's behest and whose failed 1987 nomination to the Supreme Court helped draw the modern boundaries of cultural fights over abortion, civil rights and other issues, has died. He was 85.
Robert H. Bork Jr. confirmed his father died Wednesday at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, Va. The son said Bork died from complications of heart ailments.
Brilliant, blunt and piercingly witty, Robert Heron Bork had a long career in the law that took him from respected academic to a totem of conservative grievance.
Along the way, Bork was accused of being a partisan hatchet man for Nixon when, as the third-ranking official at the Justice Department, he fired Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox in the Saturday Night Massacre of 1973. Attorney General Elliot Richardson had resigned rather than fire Cox. The next in line, William Ruckelshaus, refused to fire Cox and was himself fired.
Bork's drubbing during his Senate nomination hearings made him a hero to the right and a rallying cry for younger conservatives.
The Senate experience embittered Bork and hardened many of his conservative positions, even as it gave him prominence as an author and long popularity on the conservative speaking circuit.
Conservative legal scholars lauded Bork as an intellectual leader of the move toward originalism, which calls for the Constitution to be interpreted as it was envisioned by the Founding Fathers. Eugene Meyer, president of The Federalist Society, where Bork co-chaired the board of visitors, described Bork as a truly kind and decent man who helped mentor a generation of conservative law professors and practitioners.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia called his former appeals court colleague one of the most influential legal scholars of the past 50 years. His impact on legal thinking in the fields of antitrust and constitutional law was profound and lasting.
Known before his Supreme Court nomination as one of the foremost national experts on antitrust law, Bork became much more widely known as a conservative cultural critic in the years that followed.