February 16

Walter Dellinger, Top Legal Official in Clinton White House, Dies at 80 - The New York Times

Walter Dellinger, a renowned scholar of constitutional law and one of the top legal figures in the Clinton administration, in which he served as head of the Office of Legal Counsel and later as acting solicitor general, died on Wednesday at his home in Chapel Hill, N.C. He was 80.

His son Hampton, who oversees the Office of Legal Policy at the Department of Justice, said the cause was complications of pulmonary fibrosis.

Mr. Dellinger went to Washington in 1993 after teaching at the Duke University School of Law for more than two decades. Like Bill Clinton, the newly elected president, he was a white Southern liberal, a species not yet endangered by the encroachment of social conservatism, and he took with him extensive experience pushing for civil and reproductive rights in North Carolina.

Such was his reputation in the state that when President Clinton picked him to be assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel, his two home-state senators, Jesse Helms and Lauch Faircloth, both Republicans, tried to filibuster his nomination, even though he had the unanimous support of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Helms, a social conservative, made it clear that his opposition was personal: Mr. Dellinger had been a constant antagonist, having advised Senate Democrats in their successful opposition to the nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987.

“I’ll go to my grave regretting that Robert Bork did not get the seat on the U.S. Supreme Court which he so richly deserved,” Mr. Helms told reporters. “This fellow had a hand in that.”

The two-man filibuster ultimately failed, and Mr. Dellinger went on to play a key role in many of the toughest constitutional questions of the 1990s, including school prayer and a proposed amendment against flag burning.

Mr. Dellinger had initially been considered for the job of solicitor general, whose task is to advocate the administration’s position before the Supreme Court. The post went to Drew S. Days III, who had been the first African-American to head the civil rights division of the Justice Department. But after Mr. Days resigned in 1996, Mr. Dellinger took his place, in an acting role, for the court’s 1996-97 term.

He appeared before the court nine times that year. In one effort he sought to defer a sexual-harassment lawsuit by Paula Jones against Mr. Clinton until after the president left office (he lost); in another, he argued the administration’s opposition to a law that...

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