By Bill Mears – CNN Supreme Court Producer, WASHINGTON (CNN) — Former federal judge and conservative legal scholar Robert Bork died early Wednesday at his home in Virginia, his family confirmed to CNN.
Bork, who was 85, was best known for being nominated to the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan in 1987, only to be rejected for the post after a contentious confirmation battle led by left-leaning groups who opposed his conservative judicial philosophies.
Bork had recently served as a senior legal adviser to Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. He was a solicitor general during the Nixon administration and first gained notoriety for acceding to the president’s order to fire the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal in 1973, an episode known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.”
But it was the Senate’s rejection of his high court nomination that earned the conservative Bork a political legacy — symbolic of the contentious, partisan nature of congressional confirmations.
In recent years, Bork was a well-regarded conservative voice on legal and constitutional matters, author of several books and frequent commentator.
He told CNN in 2005 that he had to endure his failed nomination as a metaphor. To “Bork” someone has entered the popular lexicon as attacking a public figure in the media for partisan gain.
“My name became a verb,” he said. “And I regard that as one form of immortality.”
Jeffrey Toobin, CNN’s senior legal analyst, called Bork “an epic figure in American law.”
Bork was also known as a staunch advocate for “originalism,” a principle that defends the original intent of the Constitution.
Toobin said Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas followed Bork’s example on this principle.
It made Bork “one of the intellectual godfathers of the conservative movement in this country,” Toobin said.
This fall, he was tapped to co-chair Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s justice advisory committee.
Bork suffered in past years with heart disease. Before his death, he was a distinguished fellow at the Hudson Institute, which researches and analyzes issues involving defense policy, international relations, health care, technology culture and law.
The foundation’s president and CEO, Kenneth Weinstein, said Bork will be missed.
“Robert Bork was a giant, a brilliant and fearless legal scholar, and a gentleman whose incredible wit and erudition made him a wonderful Hudson colleague,” Weinstein said in a statement on the organization’s website.
CNN’s Ashley Killough contributed to this report
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