Robert Bork has died.

Roger Kimball (via Instapundit), has a good summary of Bork’s importance, which unfortunately ended up being not his scholarship but the vicious attacks by people like Ted Kennedy which gave rise to the modern left-wing smear machine:

Judge Robert H. Bork, one of the the greatest jurists this country has ever produced, died early this morning from heart complications in a Virginia hospital near his home. He was 84.

Bork was a national celebrity. Several years ago, my wife and I visited the Borks in Maine where they had taken a summer house off Somes Sound. I cannot count the times that total strangers would approach us at a lobster shack or park asking to shake the Judge’s hand and to assure him of their admiration and support.

Bork’s celebrity was only partly conferred upon him by brilliant legal work and his service as Solicitor General and then Acting Attorney General in the tumultuous Watergate years of the Nixon administration. (Andrew McCarthy wrote an excellent summary of Judge Bork’s work in The New Criterion a few years ago: “Robert H. Bork on Law and Life.”) But by far the most important fuel for fame was the riveting, not to say obscene, attack upon his candidacy for the Supreme Court in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan.

The vicious campaign waged against Judge Bork set a new low—possibly never exceeded—in the exhibition of unbridled leftist venom, indeed hate. Reporters combed through the Borks trash hoping to find comprising tidbits; they inspected his movie rentals, and were disgusted to find the films of John Wayne liberally represented. So hysterical was the campaign against Judge Bork that a new transitive verb entered our political vocabulary: “To Bork,” scruple at nothing in order to discredit and defeat a political figure. Monsieur Guillotine gave his name to that means of execution; “progressives,” those leftists haters of America who have so disfigured our national life since the 1960s, gave us the this new form of character assassination. The so-called “Lion of the Senate,” Ted Kennedy, surely one of the most despicable men ever to hold high public office in the United States (yes, that’s saying something), stood on the Senate floor and emitted a serious of calumnious lies designed not simply to prevent Judge Bork from being appointed to the Supreme Court but to soil his character irretrievably. “Robert Bork’s America,” [waj adds, video here] quoth Kennedy,

is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit down at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of democracy.

A breathtaking congeries of falsehoods that, were they not protected by the prerogatives of senatorial privilege, would have taken a conspicuous place in the annals of malicious slander and character assassination.

I wrote about this a little over a year ago, 24 years ago today, Borking was born

Was there ever a more obscene spectacle on the floor of the Senate than to see Ted Kennedy, who left a girl to die and used his family name and political power to escape punishment, rip into Robert Bork?

It’s unfortunate that Borking will be what people most remember about Robert Bork, while Mary Jo Kopechne is at most a footnote all but written out of existence from the history of the Lion of the Senate.

Update — A tribute (h/t Hot Air):