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Robert Bork at Senate Confirmation Hearing, photograph, September 1987

President Ronald Reagan chose Robert Bork, a federal judge, for the Supreme Court seat vacated by retiring Justice Lewis Powell. Bork’s judicial views were based on “original intent”—a strict interpretation of the language of the U.S. Constitution. President Reagan hoped Bork would influence the Court to back a more conservative agenda, but many liberals viewed him as an extremist.

U.S. Senate Collection

Robert Bork at Senate Confirmation Hearing, photograph, September 1987

The Senate Rejects a Supreme Court Nominee

President Ronald Reagan nominated Judge Robert Bork, a prominent conservative judge, to fill a Supreme Court vacancy in 1987. Bork gained notoriety in 1973 when President Richard Nixon directed him to fire the special prosecutor in the Watergate scandal. During his 1987 confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Bork refused to discuss his political philosophy, but his published record aroused liberal opposition. Bork’s nomination signaled a growing polarization in the Senate’s confirmation process.

Presidential appointments of Supreme Court justices require the Senate’s advice and consent. In 1987 the Senate rejected the nomination of Judge Robert Bork by the largest margin in Senate history.