Walter Dellinger, a prominent scholar of constitutional law and one of the leading legal figures in the Clinton White House, where he served as head of the Office of Legal Counsel and later acting Attorney General, passed away Wednesday at his home in Chapel Hill, NC. He was 80 years old.
His son, Hampton, who oversaw the Office of Legal Policy at the Justice Department, said the cause was complications from pulmonary fibrosis.
Mr. Dellinger came to Washington in 1993 after teaching at Duke University’s School of Law for more than two decades. Like Bill Clinton, the newly elected president, he is a white Southern libertarian, a species not yet threatened by the encroachment of social conservatism, and he has brought with him many experience promoting civil and reproductive rights in North Carolina.
His reputation in such a state was that when President Clinton selected him as assistant attorney general in charge of the Attorney General’s Office, his two state senators, Jesse Helms and Lauch Faircloth, were both Republicans, try to remove his nominationalthough he has the unanimous support of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Mr. Helms, a social conservative, makes it clear that his objections are personal: Mr. Dellinger is a frequent dissident, having advised Senate Democrats to successfully oppose the job. nominated Judge Robert Bork to the United States Supreme Court in 1987.
“I will go to my grave to regret that Robert Bork did not get the seat on the US Supreme Court that he so well deserved,” Helms told reporters. “This person had a hand in it.”
In the end, the two-man test failed, and Mr. Dellinger went on to play a pivotal role in many of the most convoluted constitutional questions of the 1990s, including school prayer and proposed amendments. against burning flags.
Mr. Dellinger was initially considered for the job of general counsel, whose job it was to advocate for the administration’s position before the Supreme Court. This post has been moved to Drew S. Days III, who was the first African-American to head the civil rights division of the Justice Department. But after Mr. Days stepped down in 1996, Mr. Dellinger took his place, in an acting role, for the court’s 1996-97 term.
He appeared in court nine times that year. In an effort, he sought to delay Paula Jones’ sexual harassment lawsuit against Mr. Clinton until the president had left office (he is deceased); in another way, he argues government objections for a law that would effectively establish the constitutional right to die.
Laurence Tribe, a law professor at Harvard, supported the law and lobbied Mr. Dellinger to join in support of it. He lost, and Mr. Dellinger won the case.
“No one could be a more worthy competitor,” Mr. Tribe said in a phone interview. “Wrestling with Walter is always a learning experience and it’s always exhilarating to have him around when you agree.”
Walter Estes Dellinger III was born on May 15, 1941, in Charlotte, NC. His father, Walter Dellinger II, died when he was young and he was raised by his mother, Grace (Lawning) Dellinger, a menswear salesman. .
He received a degree in political science from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in 1963 and graduated from Yale Law School in 1966.
Along with his son Hampton, he is survived by another son, Drew; his sisters, Barbara Dellinger and Pam Swinney; three grandchildren; and a granddaughter. His wife, Anne (Maxwell) Dellinger, died in 2021.
As a college student, Mr. Dellinger was involved in lines protesting segregated businesses in Chapel Hill. Several law schools invited him to teach after he graduated from Yale; he chose the University of Mississippi, which was recently split, because he thought he could play some role in promoting integration there.
He taught for two years and then clerked for Justice Hugo L. Black of the Supreme Court.
He then decided to move back to North Carolina to learn his roots and prepare for a career in politics — he wanted to be governor, he told Politico in 2020, “and the only intellectual work that was interesting. in North Carolina is to teach at Duke.”
Mr. Dellinger never ran for office; instead, he gained a reputation as an outspoken libertarian in state and national affairs. He writes for opinion pieces in newspapers and weekly magazines such as The New Republic, and becomes a regular face on Sunday political talk shows.
His soft Southern stroke has adjusted the force with which he argues positions that even today would place him firmly on the left. At a symposium in 1987 to mark the two-fifth anniversary of the United States Constitution, he declared that the document was based on a primal sin that the nation still could not atone for.
“As we celebrate our biennial, we need to recall that the Constitutional Convention was an event whose instant success was based in part on a truly indescribable compromise of principle.” he said, referring to the continuation of slavery.
After President Clinton failed to appoint him as attorney general, Mr. Dellinger initially joined the White House as an adviser on constitutional matters. He helped draft a series of executive orders addressing issues such as the use of fetal tissue in research and the so-called global gag order, which prohibits aid groups from discussing abortion if they receive one. federal aid. Mr. Clinton nominated him to the position of assistant attorney general a few months later.
Mr. Dellinger returned to Duke in 1997. He also joined the international law firm O’Melveny & Myers, where he founded the appellate law firm.
Although he never returned to full-time government service, Mr. Dellinger remained a key figure in liberal and democratic activism. He was a close adviser to Vice President Al Gore during the 2000 election dispute, and he later argued against the government before the Supreme Court in the District of Columbia v. whether the Constitution protects individual rights. (He lost.)
In the 2020 presidential race, Mr. Dellinger joined two other former attorneys – Seth Waxman, his successor, and Donald Verrilli Jr., who served under President Barack Obama – to form the so-called Three Amigos, a quick response team. prepared the Biden campaign for a “doomsday scenario” in which President Donald J. Trump could refuse to leave office; someone who imagines the president ordering Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to concede state electors.
“We are fully prepared to get to the Supreme Court before nightfall,” he told The New Yorker in 2021.
Mr. Dellinger remains an opinionated writer, contributing regularly to The New York Times, Slate and The Washington Post.
One of his last essays, appeared in The Times this monthargued that President Biden was right to announce that he would choose a Black woman to replace Deputy Attorney General Stephen Breyer, who is retiring from the Supreme Court.
“The Supreme Court exercises great power to make decisions that affect and bind all Americans,” Dellinger wrote. “For that power to be legitimate and for Americans to continue to place their trust in the court, its members must be representative of the whole of America.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/16/us/walter-dellinger-top-legal-official-in-clinton-white-house-dies-at-80.html Walter Dellinger, Top Legal Officer at Clinton White House, Dies at 80