Robert Bork, a former solicitor general and U.S. Supreme Court nominee, died Dec. 19 at age 85. (MANNY CENETA/AFP/Getty Images)
Robert Bork, whose unsuccessful Supreme Court nomination made him a hero to conservatives and a touchstone in the culture wars over abortion and civil rights, has died. He was 85.
Bork's family confirmed his death, the Associated Press reported.
In 1987, Bork was serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia when President Ronald Reagan nominated him to serve on the Supreme Court. Moderate Lewis Powell was retiring.
Bork's nomination roiled the Senate, which got into a heated debate led by liberal senator Edward Kennedy over the judge's stance on civil rights, abortion and other issues. Bork was rejected by the Senate by a vote of 42-58.
Bork first rose to prominence in 1973 as solicitor general, when he fired special Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox on the orders of President Richard Nixon.The incident, known as the Saturday Night Massacre, helped fuel the drive to impeach Nixon over the Watergate affair.
Bork served on the federal appeals bench from 1982 to 1988. After leaving the appeals court, he became a writer and commentator and protested what he saw as the overreach by the Supreme Court.
William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, said on the magazine's website that Bork was a "superb legal scholar, principled public servant, fine judge and important social critic." Kristol called him "a great American."