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I have been thinking about Robert Bork recently, prompted in part by the 30th anniversary of his rejection by the Senate on November 23, 1987. Next month will mark the fifth anniversary of his passing on December 19, 2012. Bork was profoundly influential in conservative legal circles when I graduated from law school in 1980 and started paying closer attention to constitutional theory. I was impressed with both Bork’s scholarly writings and his more polemical articles in publications such as National Review. A 1982 essay he wrote in NR, entitled “The Struggle Over the Role of the Court,” reprinted in his 2008 anthology A Time to Speak, remains timely—even prescient. Ramesh Ponnuru has called Bork’s 1990 book, The Tempting of America, written in the wake of his confirmation defeat, “the most important popular statement of judicial conservatism yet produced.”
Readers of Law and Liberty may have noticed that I am a fan of Justice Antonin Scalia (for example, here and here). I am also an admirer of Robert H. Bork, whom my colleague John McGinnis has described as “the most important legal scholar on the right in the last 50 years.” Bork was a pioneer in both the field of antitrust law (with his influential 1978 book The Antitrust Paradox) and constitutional law, as the father of what we now call “originalism.” In his seminal 1971 article in the Indiana Law Journal, entitled “Neutral Principles and Some First Amendment Problems,” and in his later best-selling books, The Tempting of America (1990) and Slouching Towards Gomorrah (1996), Bork eviscerated the “noninterpretive” theories of constitutional law that dominated the legal academy in the 1960s and 1970s.
Justice Antonin Scalia definitely had a way with words. Law students pore over his opinions not just for Scalia’s keen analysis but to delight in the verve of his prose—pungent, clear, combative, and always colorful. Scalia aficionados also savor his books and essays, which showcase his forceful rhetoric and deft pen. Alas, the body of Scalia’s judicial decisions and scholarship, although considerable, is finite. Fortunately, Scalia fans now have a treasure trove of new material to savor, in the form of a recently-released compilation of the late Justice’s speeches, entitled Scalia Speaks: Reflections on Law, Faith, and Life Well Lived.
Originalism is a two-way street. Judges wishing to interpret the Constitution in accordance with its original public meaning must not import into their decisions policy proscriptions not actually derived from the text and structure of that document. Just as important is that textualism and originalism require judges to give force to all provisions of the Constitution, and not pick and choose which clauses to enforce.
“The High Court put a dent in plaintiffs' long-established freedom to shop for the venue of their choosing when pressing patent infringement claims – potentially dealing a blow to the Eastern District of Texas’s prominence in hearing patent cases.” That's the assessment made of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision by intellectual property firm Morrison & Foerster, and we hope it proves accurate. An end to our prominence in these dubious endeavors would be a good thing and might prompt us to find some more acceptable kind of distinction.
The legal academy is a strange place. It differs from other intellectual disciplines in that legal scholarship is published mainly in student-edited law reviews, not peer-reviewed journals. Most faculty members at elite law schools have never practiced law, or have done so only briefly and usually without professional distinction. The curricula at many of the nation’s law schools are larded with trendy courses devoted to identity politics and social issues du jour. Elite law schools eschew the teaching of “nuts and bolts” fundamentals, deriding such practical instruction as resembling a “trade school.”
“When a single district court hears so many cases, not because of convenience or connection to the dispute, but because it is chosen by litigants on one side, the perception of a neutral justice system is undermined.” That's one of several cogent comments made by Texas State Attorney General Ken Paxton and 16 other state AGs in an amicus brief filed last week in a U.S.
President Trump’s nomination of 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court will be met by fierce resistance by Democrats in the Senate and unrelenting demagoguery from left-wing groups and media outlets. About that there can be no doubt. (American Greatness readers may recall a reference to Gorsuch in my December 22 article, “The Trump Court: SCOTUS Could Stand Some Disruption.”)