Even among the most elite lawyers, to be named Solicitor General of the United States—the attorney responsible for representing the American people before the Supreme Court—would be a career’s pinnacle. So would be performing the duties of U.S. Attorney General, often described as the nation’s top law enforcement official and, historically, the president’s principal legal advisor. To play a leading role in cases of unprecedented significance—the criminal investigation of a president, the indictment of a vice president, the meddling of the federal courts in a hot war—would place a lawyer on the same airy par.

Now imagine a lawyer enmeshed in each of these critical roles, over a period of mere weeks, in a nation rupturing over the political and cultural upheaval of the early 1970s.

Actually, no need to imagine it. Robert H. Bork not only lived...


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