Former federal appeals judge and solicitor general Robert Bork, a divisive figure on the nation’s legal landscape for decades, died today at age 85, according to his son Robert Jr. The cause was heart disease. 

Nominated to the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan in 1987, Bork became a target for liberal groups who feared that as a justice, he would turn the clock back on a range of issues including abortion and civil rights. Though prior nominations were controversial, Bork’s was viewed as a tipping point that led to contentious Supreme Court nominations ever since. After a massive lobbying campaign against him, the Senate defeated Bork’s nomination to replace Lewis Powell Jr. by a 58-42 vote. Anthony Kennedy, who is still on the court, eventually was confirmed for the seat.

After losing the nomination Bork continued to write controversial books and articles from perches at the American Enterprise Institute and the Hudson Institute. As recently as last month’s presidential election, Bork was an adviser on judicial nominations to Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Liberal groups needed to do little more than mention Bork’s name to argue that his role meant Romney would appoint only strong conservatives to the Supreme Court.

This story originally appeared on Blog of Legal Times. Contact Tony Mauro at