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Robert Bork, former Supreme Court nominee, dies

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Shown here is the late Judge Robert Bork. (AP)

Robert Bork, the former federal judge whose Reagan-era nomination to the Supreme Court touched off one of the roughest confirmation battles in modern U.S. history, has died. 

Family members said Bork, 85, died early Wednesday morning. He had a history of heart problems and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a lung condition. 

His funeral is scheduled for Saturday, and family members said there would be a memorial but did not say whether it would be open to the public.

Bork was among the most polarizing figures in American law and conservative politics for more than four decades. When Bork was solicitor general in 1973, he fired Archibald Cox as a special prosecutor on the order of President Richard Nixon to help in the Watergate cover-up. 

President Ronald Reagan nominated Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987. In a 58-to-42 vote, the Senate rejected his nomination -- it was by one of the widest margins in U.S. history. 

Critics 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. 

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.

Republicans have long said his defeat was a completely partisan move and have said Bork was one of the greatest conservative figures in history. 

“The highest court in our land will not enjoy the services of one of the finest men every put forward for a place on its bench,” Reagan said after Bork’s defeat. “Judge Bork will be vindicated in history.”

For the most part, as solicitor general, Bork compiled a moderate – and at times even liberal – record on employment discrimination and other civil rights issues, although civil rights lawyers assailed him at his Supreme Court hearing for having opposed at that time court-ordered school desegregation by means of busing. 

Bork served as solicitor general from 1973 to 1977 and was acting attorney general from 1973 to 1974.

In February 1988 Bork resigned as circuit judge and joined the American Enterprise Institute from which he resigned in November 2003. In July of that same year Bork converted to Catholicism and said he had “found the evidence of the existence of God highly persuasive.”

Most recently, Bork supported Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential bid and even joined Romney’s, “Justice Advisory Committee.”

Never one to hold his tongue, Bork sat down with Fox News at his home a few years ago, where he discussed everything from his childhood to his opinions on Reagan.

“Reagan had one and a half good ideas,” Bork said. “The great idea was to build up our military force and confront Communism. The half idea was to cut taxes. I say that’s only a half of an idea because he didn’t cut spending. And in fact all those revenues increased as spending went faster, and he made very little attempt to stop it.”

Bork's grandson, Robert Bork III, recalled fond memories of his grandfather, in an interview with FoxNews.com Wednesday morning. 

"Even in his old age, he was just a great person to talk to. He was open to conversation, and I looked forward to seeing him," he said. "We were planning to see him for Christmas."

Fox News' Barnini Chakraborty contributed to this report.