Bork served as acting attorney general after Richardson's resignation, then returned to the solicitor general's job until 1977, far outlasting the Nixon administration.
Long mentioned as a possible Supreme Court nominee, Bork got his chance toward the end of Ronald Reagan's second term. He was nominated July 1, 1987, to fill the seat vacated by Justice Lewis F. Powell.
Nearly four months later the Senate voted 58-42 to defeat him, after the first national political and lobbying offensive mounted against a judicial nominee.
It was the largest negative vote ever recorded for a Supreme Court nominee.
Reagan and Bork's Senate backers called him eminently qualified - a brilliant judge who had managed to write nearly a quarter of his court's majority rulings in just five years on the bench, without once being overturned by the Supreme Court.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., summed up the opposition by saying, "In Robert Bork's America there is no room at the inn for blacks and no place in the Constitution for women."
Critics also called Bork a free-speech censor and a danger to the principle of separation of church and state.
Bork's opponents used his prolific writings against him, and some called him a hypocrite when he seemed to waffle on previous strongly worded positions.
Despite a reputation for personal charm, Bork did not play well on television. He answered questions in a seemingly bloodless, academic style and he cut a severe figure, with hooded eyes and heavy, rustic beard.
Stoic and stubborn throughout, Bork refused to withdraw when his defeat seemed assured.
The fight has defined every high-profile judicial nomination since, and largely established the opposing roles of vocal and well-funded interest groups in Senate nomination fights. Bork would say later that the ferocity of the fight took him and the Reagan White House by surprise, and he rebuked the administration for not doing more to salvage his nomination.
The process begat a verb, "to bork," meaning vilification of a nominee on ideological grounds. In later years, some accused Bork of borking Clinton nominees with nearly the zeal that some liberal commentators had pursued him.
Bork denied any animus, and said he was happy commenting, writing and making money outside government. Even friends did not entirely believe that.
"He was very embittered by the experience," said lawyer Andrew Frey, a longtime friend who worked for Bork in the solicitor general's office. "He was not well treated, and partly as a result of that he did become more conservative."