When Robert H. Bork joined the Yale Law School faculty in 1962, he was embarking on an intensely intellectual odyssey in search of his core beliefs. To test an idea, he insisted, one must write it down, or teach it. In short, one must stick out one's neck.

"I went to Yale because I wanted to think things through," he recalled in an interview. "Of course, as soon as I did, I started to make mistakes."

This was Bork's chance to play out his conversion to libertarianism, begun in law school at the University of Chicago, and to test his radical notions of free markets against complex social issues far afield from the economy.

Ultimately, he would surrender, settling on a narrow view of constitutional rights that would become his trademark, and draw the attention of Richard M. Nixon, for whom he would play the role of "executioner" in the Saturday Night Massacre. In short, by speaking his mind at Yale, Bork would carry a friend's dictum -- "Wreak yourself upon the world!" -- to lengths he never anticipated.

He began with an intellectual search for libertarian answers to the problem of racial inequality. The result was a 1963 article in The New Republic, in which Bork called the Public Accommodations Act an unconstitutional infringement on the "freedom" of white shopkeepers to deny service to "{black} persons with whom they do not wish to associate."

A year later, in a lengthy essay in the Chicago Tribune, Bork continued his critique of civil rights legislation, writing that although he opposed legalized segregation, he found portions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act unconstitutional. Bork predicted confidently -- but wrongly -- that the law would generate such resistance as to cause widespread social strife.

"The cost -- in loss of personal freedom, constitutional distortions, disrespect for law, and increased racial and religious antagonisms -- seems prohibitively high," he wrote.

Marketing these ideas in the world of Republican politics, Bork in 1964 gave presidential candidate Barry Goldwater a lengthy critique of the act on constitutional grounds to use in formulating opposition to it in his campaign, according to a report in the Tribune. (Bork said last week that he does not recall doing this, "but I might have.")

At the invitation of University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman, who happened to be the brother-in-law of Aaron Director, the Chicago professor who led Bork to libertarianism, Bork had joined a group of professors known as Scholars for Goldwater. The group supported the Arizona senator for his opposition to government intervention in the economy and his goal of dramatically cutting the federal bureaucracy.

Bork attended a meeting of the group with Goldwater in Washington, and recalls counseling the candidate to express more commitment to civil rights while still challenging parts of the 1964 act.

By 1968, Bork was gaining prominence as the conservatives' man in the Ivy League. When The New Republic invited him to write an essay supporting Richard Nixon for president, as part of a series of articles about the candidates, he touted Nixon as a man who shared the goals of liberals but spurned their means.Writing: The Search for Justification

That year, Bork and his family took a sabbatical in England, where he wrote his antitrust ideas into what would become a respected book, and made one last stab at scripting a theory of libertarian justice. Once again, Bork used writing as a form of exploration.

The result was a 1968 Fortune article, in which this future voice of "judicial restraint" searched for a way to justify protecting a range of individual liberties -- privacy, for example -- not mentioned in the letter of the Constitution but suggested in its spirit. Bork believed he could solve the problem from a libertarian perspective, as if the delicate balancing of majority will against the liberty of minorities could be accomplished as neatly as the analysis of economic markets.

"My freedom to swing my fist ends where your nose begins," wrote Bork, ever the wordsmith. "The problem is to define the jurisdiction of the majority's nose. If it is to begin where the majority starts to feel pain, the principle might prevent minorities from so much as twitching a finger."

Soon after writing the article, Bork gave up his quest, largely as a result of extended debate with Alexander Bickel, a renowned expert on constitutional law, with whom Bork taught a seminar that became one of Yale's most popular.

For the first several years of the seminar, beginning in the mid 1960s, the two law professors basically yelled at each other, each possessed with rapier wit and intelligence. Bork was trying to work out his rigid, libertarian theory, and Bickel was arguing in the tradition of Edmund Burke that law was a creature of nuance; rigidity was to be avoided.

After one of Bickel's lengthy explanations, Bork remarked, "Mr. Bickel's judicial philosophy is a combination of Edmund Burke and 'Fiddler on the Roof.' "

But after Bork returned from his sabbatical in England, he said, the seminar with Bickel suddenly "went dead." Troubled, he asked Bickel what was wrong, and the scholar who by then had become Bork's dearest friend responded: "You're not saying those crazy things you used to say."

Only then did Bork realize he had stopped searching for new freedoms in the Constitution. Put simply, the majority's nose was inviolate -- minority rights simply could not be discerned beyond the language of the Constitution. Bork said he finally surrendered to Bickel. Human interactions were not as easily analyzed as market forces after all, he decided. Constitutional law could not be treated as a system for "controlling the monopoly power of the state over individual freedom."

He abandoned his libertarian principles and his use of them to justify his views on civil rights. He no longer was seeking a way to protect the rights of white shopkeepers who objected to serving blacks (although he did not renounce his earlier stand publicly until 1973, nine years after the Civil Rights Act had become law).

In a series of lectures published in the Indiana University Law Review in 1971, Bork elaborated on his new views in what remains the fullest statement of how he regards constitutional rights. Using sweeping and provocative language, Bork hurled aside his old notions and declared: "Where constitutional materials do not clearly specify the value to be preferred, there is no principled way to prefer any claimed human value to any other."

In other words, values such as privacy, which are not mentioned in the Constitution, had no primacy over any other individual wishes. That philosophy was to be the underpinning of Bork's belief that the Supreme Court's landmark abortion rights ruling, Roe v. Wade, made two years later, was unconstitutional.Gratifications and 'Original Intent'

There was no constitutional difference, Bork said in the lectures, between a married couple in Connecticut who claimed a "privacy right" in using contraceptives, despite a state ban, and a private utility that claimed a right to profit in defying a pollution ordinance. Neither "right" could be found in the Constitution, he said.

"There is no principled way to decide that one man's gratifications are more deserving of respect than another's or that one form of gratification is more worthy than another," Bork concluded.

Only the "original intent" of the Constitution's framers -- the precise words of the Constitution -- could justify assertion of an individual right. Thus the high court was wrong to enunciate a right to privacy and also wrong to establish the principle of one person, one vote.

Those supposed rights were at the core of two major chains of court decisions but, Bork said, neither was written in the Constitution, and so the court had made mere value judgments in favor of "gratifications," not legitimate rights.

In perhaps the most controversial statement of the 1971 article, Bork declared that the First Amendment's freedom of speech protected only "explicitly and predominantly political speech." All other forms, including "scientific, educational, commercial or literary expressions," were mere gratifications and could not be legitimately protected, he said.

In recent years, however, Bork has changed his mind about that. He has said he believes in "a spectrum" protecting moral speech, scientific speech, literature and more. How to draw a line between legitimate speech and mere gratification, he said in a U.S. Information Agency broadcast last month, "I cannot state with great precision."

In other respects, though, the 1971 article represents the present legal mind of Robert Bork, and is cited by his critics as evidence of a "flattened" view of freedom, one that doesn't expand to recognize new threats to liberties. Bork, however, views the article as a sign of flexibility, in contrast to his earlier, libertarian approach.Becoming a Voice in Constitutional Law

Bork might never have become a voice in constitutional law had it not been for his wife, Claire, who was his intellectual as well as emotional partner. Bork, hired at Yale as an antitrust specialist, was seeking a second specialty in 1964, and discussed his options, as he discussed everything, with Claire.

"Claire said, 'What's the biggest field in the law, the most exciting, intellectual field?' " he recalls.

"I said, 'Constitutional law.'

"She said, 'Teach that.'

"And so I did."

In 1972, Bork moved more aggressively into political activity, advising Nixon on legislation designed to limit busing in school desegregation cases and joining Academics for Nixon, which involved signing a full-page ad in The New York Times urging Americans to vote for Nixon.

Bork later wrote a letter to that newspaper defending Nixon's Vietnam policy as "an outstanding achievement" and calling Nixon "a leader who attempts to cope intelligently and persistently with reality."

Bork enjoyed his role as Yale's "house conservative," according to colleagues, and at times exaggerated it, as if he relished playing the rebel. Contributing to the image, he returned from his sabbatical in England with a full-faced beard that bristled like a red scouring pad. Although much was made of the beard, Bork apparently grew it for no particular reason except that his sons, Bob Jr. and Charles, and his daughter, Ellen, begged him to while on a cruise.

He hasn't shaved it off since.

Although Bork's philosophical writings of this period were severe and uncompromising, his private attitudes were less so. Bob Bork Jr. worked at age 13 for Eugene J. McCarthy's 1968 Democratic presidential campaign, mainly because a friend's mother was active in the effort and the boys found it exciting. The son has no memory of his father complaining, even though Bork was publicly supporting Nixon.

"We weren't running a boot camp," the older Bork said. "We always said, 'Do what you want.' "

Amid serious racial tensions and antiwar protests on the Yale campus, Bork served in 1969 on a disciplinary panel judging a black law student threatened with suspension for allegedly vowing to "beat the {expletive} out" of an instructor.

While two professors on the panel called for the student to be suspended for a semester as a stand against growing student rebelliousness, Bork and two others recommended that he be given a chance to return to classes immediately, providing he pledged to obey "this school's minimal rules of conduct." Despite his conservative reputation on the faculty, Bork appeared to deal with that case in a moderate way.

Ultimately, the dean, Louis H. Pollak, set aside both recommendations and decided to allow the student to return to class on probation in hopes of easing campus racial tensions.Solicitor General of the United States

In December 1972, fresh from his work on Nixon's busing legislation, Bork was contacted by aides to the president. Would Bork take the job of U.S. solicitor general, representing the U.S. government before the Supreme Court?

Here, at last, was his opportunity to frame arguments before a court he had been criticizing for almost a decade -- and, as it turned out, to become a participant, in a way he could never have anticipated, in the political world. A colleague was quoted as saying at the time that Bork saw the job as a steppingstone to the Supreme Court.

The solicitor general's office in 1973 reflected the turbulence of the Nixon years, only part of it caused by the expanding Watergate scandal. Five weeks into his new job, a stunned Bork was summoned by White House chief of staff Alexander M. Haig Jr. and asked to resign to become President Nixon's chief defense lawyer instead.

"Only you can save us; a collision course is upon us," Bork recalls Haig telling him.

"I said, 'Give me 24 hours,' " Bork said. "Thank God Bickel was in town. He told me it was a job I didn't want. I talked to {Attorney General Elliot L.} Richardson. Then I told Haig I had to hear the tapes before I'd take the job."

"The answer was, 'No, the president feels too strongly about the office' " to allow anyone, including his own lawyer, to hear the tapes, Bork recalls. He said he told Haig that if he took the job he would be in a possibly untenable position. He would be a lawyer on the government payroll, and if he found incriminating evidence, would have to turn it over to the Senate Watergate committee or the special prosecutor, to the detriment of his client.

"It's not like a lawyer in private practice who can sit on the evidence," Bork recalled telling Haig.

Haig's response, according to Bork, was: "I think you're right. I don't think you should take the job."

In his second month as solicitor general, Bork was confronted with the constitutional issue of how Vice President Spiro T. Agnew could be indicted for income-tax evasion stemming from a kickback scandal while Agnew was governor of Maryland. A sitting vice president had never before been indicted, but Bork recalls thinking, when he heard the evidence, "Agnew ought not be vice president."

Nixon's top aides insisted that Agnew could not be constitutionally indicted, that Congress had to impeach him first. As the Watergate probe deepened, Nixon also was concerned about setting a precedent that could clear the way for indicting a sitting president.

"Bork had to find a way to square that circle -- to write a brief that said it was constitutional to indict Agnew without setting a precedent for Nixon," said a former colleague. "It was very difficult legally."

Bork managed to do it, but first he and Richardson had to persuade Nixon to give the go-ahead for indictment. The two men went to the Oval Office to see the president, stopping in the men's room along the way to rehearse their presentation one last time. Bork recalls that both he and Richardson were prepared to resign if Nixon had said no. But he said yes.Following Orders: The Cox Firing

His fourth month brought the Saturday Night Massacre. Alone among Nixon's top three Justice Department officials, Bork had made no pledge to Congress to keep hands off Archibald Cox, the Harvard professor leading the Watergate investigation. What's more, Bork believed Nixon had the constitutional right to fire Cox, who had defied the president and gone to court seeking secret tapes of White House conversations.

And so, after Richardson resigned and his deputy, William D. Ruckelshaus, was fired for refusing to carry out Nixon's order to discharge Cox, the next call went to Bork. Unlike the Yale professor, who was free to pillory everyone from the Supreme Court to Yippies, Solicitor General Bork was caught between principle and political expediency.

A rigidly principled Bork told Richardson he would resign immediately after firing Cox because, by carrying out the order, he would be the president's "apparatchik," not the independent repository of constitutional knowledge that the solicitor general was supposed to be.

But Bork, the good soldier of the Nixon administration, agreed to stay on after Richardson insisted that if he left, there would be no chain of command at Justice, mass resignations could follow and the department would be reduced to chaos.

Indeed, only hours after saying he would have to resign, Bork returned from a White House meeting with Haig, holding two documents, according to two sources who saw them -- one making him acting attorney general, and the other, signed by Bork, ending the independence of the special prosecutor's office, making it part of Justice. (Bork said he does not recall the contents of the order that resulted in the firing of Cox.)

Bork says now that he was certain at the time that the integrity of the investigation would be unharmed. But at the time, there were widespread public doubts, and by week's end, both Bork and Haig decided that to avert a crisis of faith, a new outside prosecutor had to be hired. They separately settled on the same man -- Leon Jaworski.

Most scholars believe that the solicitor general, who represents the U.S. government before the Supreme Court, should argue cases on behalf of federal agencies as his clients, and not try to score debating points for his own political views. The high court, for its part, views the office as a special litigant, almost an adviser to assist it in deciding cases.

As a result, despite his strongly held views on a number of issues, such as antitrust, Bork often deferred to his deputies to present the administration's position.

"This job isn't what I thought it was," Bork once complained to an aide. "I thought I could think great thoughts and write great briefs and it is more putting the stuff from the 'in' box to the 'out' box."

Staff members recall Bork starting each day sitting on the couch just inside his office, smoking constantly, drinking coffee, doing a newspaper crossword puzzle. There were papers and briefs stacked high on every square inch of table, chair, couch and floor.

There was a constant backlog. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger once complained to Bork about the latter's chronic tardiness in filing briefs and memoranda, some as much as four months late, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times in November 1974. The court had to postpone discussion of some petitions because Bork was late in filing the government's responses, the story said.

Universally liked, even by subordinates who strongly disagreed with his politics, Bork worked hard to impose his strongly held views, particularly on the constitutionality of the death penalty, on busing and on the right of presidents to "pocket veto" bills when Congress was on a brief break and could not override the veto.Too Controversial for Ford Nomination

In late 1975, Justice William O. Douglas retired from the court, creating a vacancy. Less than three years earlier, Bork had been rumored as a likely nominee. But now, though his name appeared on a list of prospects compiled by the White House, he was dropped before the "short list" was compiled.

Aides to President Gerald R. Ford said memories of the Saturday Night Massacre and of Bork's connection to the dark days of Watergate made him too controversial.

Ford instead nominated John Paul Stevens, a soft-spoken and little-known federal judge in Chicago with a record of moderation.

And so, as Jimmy Carter's inaugural parade moved down Pennsylvania Avenue on Jan. 20, 1977, Bork found himself in the solicitor general's office, packing his papers to return to Yale to resume life as a conservative professor. He opened his windows, and sounds of the inauguration of the former Georgia governor filtered in as background noise, accentuating the end of an era.

TUESDAY: To New Haven and Back