Former John Locke Foundation Headliner and constitutional historian Kevin Gutzman shares with Human Events readers his recollections of the process that led to the U.S. Senate’s rejection of Robert Bork as a Supreme Court nominee during the Reagan era.

The vigor of his critics’ campaign proved that Bork was right: his intellectual opponents’ abuse of the office of Supreme Court justice had made that position more significant than that of any senator.

David Hobbs, [Dick] Armey’s chief legislative aid, allowed me to draft the congressman’s special orders speech endorsing Bork’s nomination—the first one of its kind. In the speech, the congressman emphasized that Bork stood for a return to actual constitutionalism, with judges judging, in place of the judicial legislation that had been in vogue on the Court since the 1930s.

The controversy over the Bork nomination went on through the Fall 1987 semester. As a first-year law student, I was transfixed. As others came and went, I stood in the doorway of the University of Texas School of Law’s Tarlton Law Library watching the Bork hearings live on C-SPAN.

The Bork hearings had all the makings of a circus. On one hand sat the judge, who despite professional political advice opted to lecture the senators rather than sit impassively through their often-incoherent harangues. On the other side was the Democratic majority on the Judiciary Committee, including a chairman in the midst of a scandal over his having delivered a speech plagiarized from a British politician, one member who had been tossed off the Intelligence Committee by its Democratic chairman for leaking documents, another senator who had been a Ku Klux Klansman, and Kennedy, infamous for being tossed out of Harvard for cheating and for leaving a young woman not his wife to drown in his car.