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The Marble Palace Blog: Kagan, Biden, Clinton and Other Friends of Walter Dellinger Pay Tribute

Thank you for reading The Marble Palace blog, which I hope will inform and surprise you about the Supreme Court of the United States. My name is Tony Mauro. I’ve covered the Supreme Court since 1979 and for ALM since 2000. I semi-retired in 2019, but I’m still fascinated by the high court. I will be happy to receive advice or suggestions for topics to write. You can reach me at [email protected]


More than 500 friends, colleagues and admirers of Walter Dellinger tuned into a virtual video memorial service on Saturday and learned more about his life, his joyful embrace of family, country music, BB King, baseball and the Constitution.

Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore and Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar were among dozens who paid tribute via video.

Dellinger, a Duke Law School scholar, an associate of O’Melveny and former acting solicitor general, died at age 80 on February 16. The service also honored Dellinger’s wife, Anne, who died last year.

The video itself amounts to a glimpse into the inner workings of law and politics as well as a celebration of a life well lived. Here are excerpts from some comments:

Judge Elena Kagan: “When I was appointed Solicitor General, he was perhaps the person who helped me the most. He came and he said, ‘I’m going to prepare you for your confirmation hearings.’ And he did a spectacular job in that regard. And then he kind of taught me how to be a Solicitor General. I came without a lot of experience that others had, and he sat me down more than once and taught me everything there was to know about the job. I don’t think I could have done it without him. … When I think about how sad I am about Walter passing, all the personal ways I am sad, but what strikes me the most when I think, when I look at the world now, and maybe especially the world of law, that we need these kind of clear-eyed optimists more than ever, these people who are able to see the world as it is, but who are incredibly optimistic about what it can be.

President Joe Biden: “I have known Walter for over 40 years. He was there throughout the 2020 election, advising me in my campaign on how to protect the integrity of the election from growing threats. It is not hyperbole to say that Walter was the protector of American democracy. … He was the kind of American our founders imagined we would have to lead us to a more perfect union. He understood that democracy could be complicated and messy, but necessary, and our best hope on earth.

Former Solicitors General Seth Waxman and Donald Verrilli who, along with Dellinger, worked together as “SG3” or the “Three Amigos” in 2020 and 2021 to stave off Trump’s efforts to overturn the presidential election. Waxman: “As we saw the election approaching, it just seemed like that oh my god, this is potentially a really terrible situation, and we can’t waste any time. Walter’s reaction was, ‘We’re facing an existential crisis, let’s go!” Verilli: “Walter was sick at the time, and we knew it because he had the oxygen tube on every night for every call we made. And yet you knew with Walter that he was fighting to preserve and protect the future of the constitution and the future of our democracy, even though he knew at the time that he was not going to see much more.

President Bill Clinton: “He did a fabulous job in my administration being part of the transition and helping me choose a new attorney general and then many judges. He ran the Office of Legal Counsel with great distinction and was terrific as Solicitor General. I’ll never forget the argument he made against the Texas sodomy law. It was just one example of how a man with a brilliant mind and a caring heart could use the power of law and the promise of American equality to advance the lives of all of us.

United States Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar: “I feel so lucky to have been able to benefit from Walter’s encouragement and enthusiasm. Shortly after starting this job last year, Walter and I went to lunch, where he spent hours telling me war stories and giving me advice. He shared lessons based on his own approach to the job, but he also stressed that there is no one size fits all for being a solicitor general. And he filled me with confidence that I should do the job my way. Walter then sent a long email full of wisdom, generosity and kindness. I still have this email marked in my inbox and I go back to Walter’s words whenever I had to make a tough decision or needed a helping hand.

Vice President Al Gore: “Those who were fortunate enough to work with him and call him a friend were all students of Walter, for he taught us all how we could be better champions of the ideals on which our country was founded. And it was crystal clear through his education and mentorship of young legal minds that Walter was defending the soul of America for generations to come. … I would be remiss if I did not mention how much Walter’s compassion extended to every member of his family. He especially adored the love of his life, Anne, and spent several years caring for her as her mind succumbed to dementia. Unfortunately, Walter lost Anne last spring.

Brad Butwin, president of O’Melveny & Myers, where Dellinger was a partner for more than 20 years: “I spoke with Walter for the last time just days before his death. He was in good spirits and looked forward to attending the O’Melveny Partner Offsite in May, an event he never missed. from our last Offsite in person, Walter led the finale of our annual musical show with a hip-hop number from the piece Hamilton, wig and all. Playing Alexander Hamilton, Walter concluded the song by saying, “I will not be forgotten Walter, my friend, you certainly won’t be. We love you, we miss you, thank you and are so grateful.

Kerry Abrams, Dean of Duke Law School: “As anyone participating today is likely to already know, Walter was one of the most amazingly bright, compassionate and optimistic people to ever walk this earth. He did more for the rule of law, human rights civilians of individuals and the welfare of his fellow human beings in a year of his life than most people do in their lifetime.The day Walter passed away, our faculty decided to cancel our workshop usual, which Walter had planned to attend, to come together to share our memories of him. Time and again, the teachers told their stories, each with a common theme. Walter had a gift for touching each individual life and making each person feel incredibly important, worthy and needed.

Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director Emeritus Lawyer of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund: “Walter could always be counted on for sage advice. He was an honest broker. He could mediate a dispute between two lawyers and make everyone fully accept the outcome. He will be missed in our profession. In fact, I believe that at this particular time we need more lawyers in our profession like Walter Dellinger, but I’m so glad we got to know him and work with him.

Judge Pamela Harris of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit: “The thing about Walter is that not only could he see the potential in young female lawyers, but he could also magically make other people see it. So by the time I got to O’Melveny, he had completely paved the way. He had somehow convinced everyone, not only to hire me for 10 years out of law school with no litigation experience, but also to make the part-time job work , for that was Walter’s mantra in those early days: you’d rather have Pam Harris for three days a week than anyone else for five.

Dahlia Lithwick, Managing Editor at Slate: “One of the things about Walter that was amazing was his fundamental optimism about everything. I think he genuinely believed that if a smart journalist wrote a smart thing and smart people read it, it could change the world. And it was fundamentally different from law reviews. It was fundamentally different from going to stuffy conferences, academic or professional. I just felt like Walter’s assignment office, where at five or six in the morning he was emailing me and saying, “Someone needs to write about this. He didn’t come from a place of delegated responsibility. He just believed that journalism could change mentalities before everyone else!

James Carville, political strategist and member of a Zoom group with Dellinger during the pandemic: “I mean he was the Willie Mays of human beings. He could do anything. He knew the law, he knew entertainment, he knew journalism, he knew politics, he knew literature. … But his greatest tool was his humanity. And the thing about Walter Dellinger, as smart as he was, as far as he knew, as accomplished as he was, there wasn’t a whiff of coastal cultural arrogance about him His eyes were beaming and you saw him. And boy, I got to know him.

Hampton Dellinger, son of Walter and U.S. Assistant Attorney General for Legal Policy: “Walter’s American dream was to engage with others, always with others. He has never met a stranger. He met and made lifelong friends. We are Walter’s American dream. And as much as he was fascinating and incredibly entertaining to us, he was supported and energized by us. We are that, we are his American dream. And I have no doubt he’s looking down and smiling at it, at us. And so I know you will join me in doing all we can to honor Walter by doing our best through him and through Anne. Thank you.” (Hampton Dellinger’s essay on his father is available here.)