One measure of a person's merit is how much he helps ordinary people whom he's never met, and people far junior. By that standard, and by many other standards, Judge Robert Bork, a former Marine who died on Dec. 19 at the age of 85, was a man of great merit.
Newspaper stories about Bork center on his contentious congressional hearing, where senators failed to confirm him as a Supreme Court justice.
But most fail to mention that antitrust, the law of competitive marketplaces, is the first area where Bork left his mark. In the 1950s, antitrust law was a sleepy domain filled with rigid rules and nonsensical results. Company A could not acquire Company B because of the blind application of a formula. Often, the companies being shut out would be small businesses run by ordinary people simply trying to survive.
Bork revolutionized antitrust law. He was one of the first to look at the benefits to consumers from changes in corporate structures. He used economic tools to evaluate costs and benefits. As a result, countless millions of Americans and American businesses benefited from a more enlightened approach to antitrust law.
Bork did not meet these ordinary American consumers or businesses. We did not appear in his classrooms or courtrooms. We never knew we owed him a debt of gratitude. And Bork would never have thought that anyone owed him a word of thanks.
He did all of this not through obscure legal writings, but through clear and elegant prose that even ordinary Americans could have read and understood if they had been so inclined.
It would have been understandable if Bork had little time for mere mortals. But, as his colleague for eight years at the American Enterprise Institute, and six years at the Hudson Institute, I can say definitively that this was not so.
At AEI in the 1990s, Bork regularly participated in the weekly Friday Forums, where staff would present their research to their colleagues for discussion and critique. Bork was an enthusiastic participant, sitting at a table with the late philosopher Irving Kristol, theologian Michael Novak, and economists Allan Meltzer and Irwin Stelzer, and also talking to more junior staff, such as myself.
One of Bork's interns at Hudson, Arthur Ewenczyk, said, "When the judge heard I never had a martini, he took it upon himself to introduce me to not one but three of D.C.'s best-mixed martinis."
Ewenczyk, now a senior at Yale Law School, continued, "He took my fellow intern and me out to lunch at some of D.C.'s finest dining establishments every week when we worked for him so that we would learn to enjoy the finer things in life."
Ewenczyk was not alone. Bork loved interacting with young people. He had trouble getting out in his last years, but one day the staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee came to visit, bringing copies of his books for autographs and innumerable questions. They had a spirited conversation and stayed for dinner.
Bork remained a lifelong supporter of the Marines. Every year he attended the annual dinner of the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, even when he was in a wheelchair. On Saturday, he was laid to rest by his fellow Marines.
Marines, consumers, people great and small -- we all have been helped by Judge Bork. Most of us never knew it, much less thanked him. He made life better for ordinary people perfect strangers, not through any moral calculus, but from a moral compass that needed no calculation. America is a better nation for having had Robert Bork, and our loss is great.