COMMENTARY: Time and place: Judge Bork, the Mayflower Hotel’s Grand Ballroom, and unfinished work

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A family reunion took place Tuesday (April 9) at the Mayflower Hotel’s Grand Ballroom in the nation’s capital. Invitations called us to the Robert Heron Bork Memorial.

It was a fine tribute to Judge Bork, who died in December. It was also a family reunion for those who labor still in the vineyard of American law, seeking to restore  limited government, and to lay the basis for revitalization of that view of judicial restraint that characterized his life and his writings.

The perfect venue: It was in that ornate ballroom, in June 1982, that Judge Bork for the first time met Professor Raoul Berger, a Democrat and fellow legal scholar who became dismayed at the direction “liberalism” had taken in the 1960s. 

The two men served as keynoters for “A Conference on Judicial Reform,” a gathering I organized for my mentor, Paul Weyrich. 

Their comments were capstone for pragmatic and principled discussions about how to revive limits on government power. 

Bork’s wife Claire had died two years before. 

That night at the Mayflower Bork asked Mary Ellen Pohl, whom he had met shortly before at a luncheon speech, if she wanted to have a drink. She said yes, they began to date and many months later news broke in The Washington Star, when “The Ear” (columnist Diana McClellan) wrote, “Our favorite-righter-than-thou judge is soon to be wed.”

After their marriage at St. Matthew’s Cathedral – just one block away  – the Borks celebrated with friends … in the Grand Ballroom of the Mayflower. 

In 1988, he was honored with the Joseph Story Award at the Mayflower … then in 2007, the Federalist Society hosted a sweeping review of his influential career.

Bork rose to national prominence for a series of articles that culminated in “The Anti-Trust Paradox,” a book which transformed an entire area of American law. His arguments shifted legal interpretation away from anti-bigness toward a rational focus on consumer benefits in economic concentration.

An influential Yale Law professor before and after his tenure as Solicitor General – the nation’s lawyer sometimes deemed “The Tenth Justice” – Bork taught a generation of conservative and libertarian lawyers (and scholars) the meaning of rigor in examination of words, their meaning, and the role of legal precedent. 

I have written previously about his 1987 nomination to the High Court, and the desperate fight to support him in the face of unprecedented opposition, including the first judicial confirmation in history with election-style negative advertising. Working on his behalf, even in a losing cause, was the most significant thing I’ve done in professional life.

In the 90 minutes of this week’s Memorial, Robert H. Bork, Jr. remembered not the scholar, but the father. The younger Bork’s daughter led a recitation of The Lord’s Prayer.

John O’Sullivan, former speechwriter for the late Margaret Thatcher, said Bork’s hitch in the Marines, “put him in touch with people whom the average law professor never meets.” Prof. George Priest, who succeeded Bork at Yale Law, said he sometimes corrects students by having them turn and look at Bork’s portrait, which hangs on the wall at the back of his old classroom.

John Harrison, a Bork student who later served as his clerk and is now a professor himself, said he imagined the experience of learning from Bork can be likened to those who studied with Socrates (as recorded in Plato’s “The Republic”). Lifelong friend Ray Randolph said he still finds himself reaching for the phone to call Bork after reading a piece or news or commentary. 

The crowd at his Memorial included hundreds of Judge Bork’s ardent admirers and many from his legion of friends.

At a following reception, toasts in tribute were delivered, including from Chief Justice John Roberts, former Attorney General Edwin Meese III, and former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton. The Federalist Society announced a new lecture series will bear Bork’s name.

I saw M. Stanton Evans, former editor of the Indianapolis Star and former president of the Joseph Story Society, of which the good Judge was a member. Stan and I talked about our past and present as conservatives (or at least non-liberals) in the American press corps. 

That transported me again to the battle for Bork. My first fax after President Ronald Reagan nominated Bork in early July 1987, written in my capacity as an organizer among conservatives and libertarians working for judicial reform, as Stan recalled, included the words, That for which we exist is upon us.

Robert Bork is gone, but left behind is his model — fidelity to the rule of law, a determination to remind Americans of the limits of government, defense of the proper function of the judiciary, appreciation for the nexus of law and economics. 

Judge Bork’s life continues to affirm the idealism that invigorated a band of brothers and sisters in times past.

Our mission remains unfinished, but memories of the old Marine will sustain us in the struggle. 

NOTE: McGuigan is the co-author of “Ninth Justice: The Fight for Bork. You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan, Oklahoma City bureau chief for 

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