Skip to Content


“Borking” is attacking a person’s reputation and views for the purposes of denying them a political appointment.

Borking is characterized by intense scrutiny and distortion of the nominee’s past, focusing on their previous legal rulings, public statements, and personal beliefs.

Origin of “Borking”

The term was popularized by the Wall Street Journal editorial page after the Senate rejected the nomination of Robert Bork the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987.

Bork himself later discussed the origination of the term in a 2005 interview with Frank Sesno on CNN:

BORK: Well, I knew what was happening. The core of the issue was, they were afraid I would vote to overrule Roe against Wade. And they were quite right.

SESNO: And your name became a verb.

BORK: My name became a verb. And I regard that as one form of immortality.

SESNO: To Bork means what?

BORK: I think to attack with — to attack a person’s reputation and views unfairly.

Opponents employ various tactics to paint the nominee in an unfavorable light, aiming to sway public opinion and exert pressure on decision-makers. It’s similar to poisoning the well.

These tactics may include misrepresenting the nominee’s positions, selectively highlighting controversial statements or actions, or creating narratives that cast doubt on their impartiality or qualifications.

The strategy of Borking often involves the deliberate use of negative advertising campaigns, media manipulation, and character assassination.

It relies on exploiting public fears, biases, and preconceptions to create a negative perception of the nominee.

In many instances, Borking also extends beyond legitimate critiques of the nominee’s record, delving into personal attacks, distortion of facts, and the spread of unsubstantiated rumors or innuendos.

One of the main objectives of Borking is to influence the confirmation process by mobilizing public opinion against the nominee.

By characterizing the nominee as extreme, unfit, or ideologically incompatible, those engaging in this tactic aim to pressure decision-makers, such as members of legislative bodies or executive branches, into rejecting the nomination.

Borking can also have a chilling effect on future nominations, dissuading qualified candidates from accepting or putting themselves forward due to the potential for character assassination and the toxic nature of the confirmation process.


More on “Borking”

Refusing to confirm a well-qualified appointee for ideological reasons, often after a well-funded smear campaign.

Robert Bork, a federal appeals court judge and conservative legal scholar, was nominated to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan in 1987. Within hours of Reagan’s announcement, Senator Ted Kennedy took to the Senate floor to denounce “Robert Bork’s America,” a land of “back-alley abortions” and other potential atrocities.

The Senate voted not to confirm Bork, on a 42–58 tally, and a nominee with firmly held views subsequently was seen as a liability.

Now, any time that any Supreme Court nominee is perceived as running into the slightest bit of trouble, the headline practically writes itself: “Will (insert name here) Be Borked?”

And it extends beyond the court. When Larry Summers’ bid to head the Federal Reserve ran into roadblocks that led him to take himself out of the running in September 2013, Bloomberg Businessweek ran a headline: “Did Larry Summers Get Borked? Not Really.” It explained that he was an unknown figure to most Americans, and thus could not touch off the interest-group rallying that attends a Supreme Court nominee.

Upon Bork’s death in December 2012, the Economist’s anonymous language column speculated on why “borking” had taken off in political lingo while other similar terms did not.

With “no disrespect to the departed intended,” the columnist wrote, “while he was alive, many people simply noted that Bork is ‘fun to say.’ ”

From Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes © 2014 Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark.

Use of “Borking” in a sentence:

  • The nominee for the Supreme Court was subjected to a relentless campaign of Borking by political opponents, who sought to discredit him through unfounded allegations and distortions of his record.
  • The senator’s decision to support the Borking of the ambassadorial nominee raised concerns about the erosion of fair and unbiased confirmation processes in the political landscape.
  • The opposition party engaged in a deliberate strategy of Borking, launching a smear campaign against the potential candidate for attorney general in an attempt to derail his confirmation.