Balls & Strikes has published more than one essay about Robert Bork, the cartoonishly reactionary federal appeals court judge whose Supreme Court nomination was rejected by the Senate on a bipartisan basis in 1987. Bork, an unabashed homophobe who once argued that civil rights laws requiring business owners to serve Black people rested on “a principle of unsurpassed ugliness,” has since become the original cancel culture martyr of the conservative legal movement. Today, if you ask your average Federalist Society dork when judicial confirmations became political bloodsport, they will start chanting Bork’s name like they’re mourning Meat Loaf’s untimely death in Fight Club.
This post, however, is not really about Robert Bork. It is an appreciation for the mysterious man in this photo standing to his left.
Balls & Strikes gets our photos from Getty Images, which means that every time I look for pictures to accompany anything vaguely Bork-adjacent, searching for his name yields the same results. Most of it is stuff you’d expect: A somber Bork holding up documents related to the Watergate scandal, in which he carried out President Richard Nixon’s order to fire the special counsel investigating him. A beaming Bork standing at the podium next to President Ronald Reagan at his Supreme Court nomination announcement. A shell-shocked Bork sitting at a table during his confirmation hearings, staring off into the middle distance, looking for all the world like a man growing facial hair for a DIY Balding Satan Halloween costume.
One set, however, stands out: four photos dated July 1, 1987, the same day news of his nomination became public. In them, Bork, wearing a suit, stands outside the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse in Washington, D.C. before entering a white convertible with several similarly-dressed associates. (Shoutout Chris Geidner, author of the Law Dork newsletter, for helping me sleuth out where this is.) In one of the four photos, Bork is accompanied by a very conspicuous guest: a mustachioed thigh-bearing king, biceps stretching his well-fitted polo’s sleeves to their limits, glancing furtively up Pennsylvania Avenue while cradling a giant Corgi like someone just handed him the NBA Finals trophy.
It’s possible, I guess, that this resort-casual attire enthusiast belongs in the picture—some revanchist John Birch Society dead-ender summoned from the tennis court to start prepping Bork for questions from senators about, say, whether voting literacy tests are constitutional or not. But he isn’t really acting like someone who knows Bork, or even knows who Bork is. His sudden disappearance—present while Bork is waiting, absent by the time he opens the passenger door—suggests that he wasn’t too keen on making the front page of next morning’s Washington Post. And, again, while everyone else in the frame is wearing the latest from the Brooks Brothers Extra Roomy line, he is standing in the middle of downtown D.C. looking like he’s about to shot-put the canine version of a fullback.
My best guess is that Cool Corgi Guy is a hilariously incongruous interloper—a man who took his dog for an afternoon stroll, happened upon a scrum of reporters hounding the president’s just-announced Supreme Court nominee, and couldn’t quite pick up the poop in time to get out of the shot. If that’s true, it’s delightful that the photographer still found him so visually arresting that he or she couldn’t help but shift the camera a little to the left, away from Bork, to capture our picture-crashing pal in all his Armond-from-White–Lotus glory.
So, I ask: Do you know who this man is? If so, please reach out, so that I can tell him about his extremely niche claim to fame and/or ask for tips on biceps curl technique. Please do NOT reach out, however, if he is a revanchist John Birch Society dead-ender. This picture brings me too much joy to have the crushing weight of reality ruin it.
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