Syndicated columnist Thomas Sowell gave an impassioned defense of Robert Bork at the 1987 hearings. He was confronted by then-Senator Joe Biden.

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 19, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) -  Upon learning that onetime Supreme Court nominee and legal scholar Robert Bork passed away today, the pro-life movement mourned the loss of his towering intellect – and pondered the unborn lives that might have been saved had he been confirmed 25 years ago.

Bork, 85, died Wednesday at Arlington’s Virginia Hospital Center of heart disease.

The Senate voted against Bork’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987. The vacant seat was ultimately filled by Anthony Kennedy, now considered the court’s “swing vote.”

Kennedy became the pivotal vote in the plurality opinion partially upholding Roe v. Wade, 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling. 

Judge Bork expressed his opinion on two contentious issues – abortion and anti-sodomy laws – in 2003. Like many originalists he believed the federal government did not have a role in the issues which should be dealt with on a state to state basis. This opinion would have countered the 5-4 majority decision of Roe v. Wade.  “The Constitution has nothing in it that would prevent a state from allowing homosexual sodomy, from allowing abortion, or from disallowing homosexual sodomy and disallowing abortion. Those are topics simply not addressed by the Constitution,” he said. 

“The Constitution assumes that most of our laws will be made by the moral choice of the American people acting through their legislatures,” he said.

The pro-life movement has long believed Justice Bork could have led the court in overturning Roe v. Wade.

“We are not only saddened by the passing of Judge Bork as an amazing human being, but we mourn the lost hope which Judge Bork represented,” Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, told LifeSiteNews.com. “The past 40 years has seen too many lost children and far too many lost opportunities, like Judge Bork’s defeat, to stop the killing.”

“America has become an impoverished nation in so very many ways because of Judge Bork’s rejection from the Supreme Court,” Gerard Nadal, the Academic Dean of Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, CT, told LifeSiteNews. “With more than 56 million citizens aborted, marriage redefined, and liberal educational policies and standards that have placed America dead last among the industrialized nations of the world,” Nadal said the state of American culture will stand as “Judge Bork’s great vindication.”

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins recalls that Bork was “a strong voice for the role of judges as constitutional interpreters rather than legislators. If other judges reflected his understanding of the modest, limited role of judging, I have no doubt that the American people would be freer.”

The future federal judge was born in Pittsburgh on March 1, 1927. After taking a break in his studies to serve in the Korean War, Bork graduated the University of Chicago Law School in 1953.

Bork taught at Yale Law School, where he became the nation’s foremost advocate of an originalist interpretation of the Constitution. Sometimes called strict constructionism, Bork’s views denied that the Constitution was open to ever-changing meanings discerned by the current Supreme Court justices, the view that gave rise to Roe v. Wade. At Yale Law, he taught a variety of future decision makers from across the political spectrum, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, Anita Hill, and John Bolton.

President Nixon appointed Bork Solicitor General of the United States in 1973, a post he held under President Ford until 1977. After a brief return to Yale, President Reagan appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1982.

When U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell retired, Ronald Reagan nominated Bork for his seat on September 18, 1987.

The confirmation hearing marked a turning point in American political culture. While the Senate had rejected nominees Clement Haynsworth Jr. in 1969 and Harrold Carswell in 1970, neither man endured the vitriolic personal attacks unleashed against Robert Bork.

“Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is, and is often the only, protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy,” Ted Kennedy bellowed from the well of the Senate.

“Judge Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court exposed the ugly depths liberals will sink to advance their assault on our Constitution,” Paul E. Rondeau, executive director of the American Life League, told LifeSiteNews.com. The bruising hearings “will stand as an eternal reminder of the great personal sacrifice made by one man in defense of his country and culture.”

Bork, who relished intellectual combat, gave as good as he received. On October 23, his nomination went down to defeat by a vote of 52-43, with Republican Senators such as Bob Packwood and Arlen Specter voting nay, while two Democrats voted to confirm.

So heated was the treatment the judge received that character assassination received a new name: “Borking.” The tactics would be revived against future justice Clarence Thomas.

After Bork’s defeat, Reagan nominated Harvard professor Douglas Ginsburg, who withdrew his nomination after admitting he had smoked marijuana. Justice Anthony Kennedy ultimately filled the vacancy. 

Bork resigned his judgeship in 1988 over his treatment. He turned his intellectual might into a force for the Founder’s views of the Constitution through books, including Slouching Toward Gomorrah, and as a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and Ave Maria Law School.

“Rarely does one meet a towering intellect – someone who presents the hardest issues in a way which reveals their true substance. Judge Bork was such a man,” Americans United for Life President and CEO, Dr. Charmaine Yoest said. “In my acquaintance with him, I found him to be generous with both his time and wisdom, truly sharing his gift with the world.”

“Judge Bork’s scholarly philosophy of originalism gave influence and renewed life to the constitutional intent of our forefathers,” Rondeau told LifeSiteNews.

Although his hearings pivoted around divisive social issues such as abortion, Bork made a significant contribution to antitrust law. Michael H. Schill, a law professor at the University of Chicago, said Bork’s “legacy to the world of law and economics, and to antitrust law, cannot be overstated.” 

Former Reagan administration Attorney General Edwin Meese called Bork “one of our nation’s greatest legal minds,” who “leaves a lasting legacy of scholarly excellence and integrity.”

Outgoing Heritage Foundation President Ed Feulner regards the judge as “a titan in the legal field.”

Although he appreciated a fixed precedent, Bork changed his mind on one vital point: He converted to Catholicism in 2003.

“His brilliant legal mind also saw the truth of Christianity, and in his later years Judge Bork grew closer in his relationship with Jesus,” Tony Perkins said. “His deep faith and trust in God is an example for all of us.”

Judge Robert Bork is survived by his wife, Mary Ellen – whom Perkins notes is “a fellow champion of the sanctity for human life” – as well as three children from his first marriage, Ellen, Robert, and Charles; and two grandchildren.

All original quotations for this article were gathered by John-Henry Westen.