Judge Robert Bork dead at 85

Judge Robert Bork, the former solicitor general whose unsuccessful confirmation battle forever changed Supreme Court fights, has died.

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Bork, 85, died from heart complications in a Virginia hospital near his home, according to reports. 

Bork was nominated by President Reagan to the Supreme Court in 1987, but Democrats in the Senate blocked him in what marked a turning point in Supreme Court nominations. The Senate rejected Bork's nomination 42-58 — the biggest margin in history.

Vice President Biden chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time, and presided over Bork's nomination. He led the charge against Bork largely on ideological grounds, rather than by questioning Bork's qualifications.

Bork was an advocate of “originalism,” the idea that the U.S. Constitution should be interpreted based on the Framers’ original intent to keep judges from legislating from the bench.

Although judicial nominees are often presented — and evaluated — as simple arbiters of the law, Biden has said the Bork hearings helped convince him that ideology should be a major factor when evaluating Supreme Court nominees.

"And it didn't take me long — it was hard to change, but it didn't take me long, but it took about five years for me to realize that the ideology of that judge makes a big difference," Biden said in 2008. "That's why I led the fight against Judge Bork. Had he been on the court, I suspect there would be a lot of changes that I don't like and the American people wouldn't like, including everything from Roe v. Wade to issues relating to civil rights and civil liberties."

Reagan called Democrats' assault on Bork a "lynch mob," singling out Biden and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) for what he said were distortions of Bork's beliefs and judicial record. 

The Bork fight preceded even more difficult battles in later years over Clarence Thomas's confirmation to the court.

Bork served as solicitor general in the 1970s, and stepped in as acting attorney general for the Nixon administration after Eliot Richardson resigned amid the Watergate scandal. In the 1980s, Bork was a U.S. district court judge.

Bork retired from his lower-court postion after the bruising Supreme Court fight.

This story was updated at 10:35 a.m.