Tributes to Walter Dellinger, a scholar, Supreme Courtroom advocate, and “luminary in regulation and in life”

Man speaks at podium

Dellinger argues on behalf of Washington, D.C., in District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008. (Artwork Lien)

Walter Dellinger, a constitutional scholar and expert advocate who argued 24 circumstances on the Supreme Courtroom, died on Wednesday at his residence in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He was 80. Dellinger served as head of the Workplace of Authorized Counsel and as performing solicitor normal underneath President Invoice Clinton. In 1997, he joined O’Melveny & Myers and based the agency’s appellate observe. He was a long-time member of the Duke Legislation College college, which he joined in 1969. 

We requested a few of Dellinger’s mates, colleagues, and former college students to write down just a few phrases about his life and his work. Listed here are their tributes.

James Boyle

William Neal Reynolds Professor of Legislation at Duke Legislation College

From picketing the Carolina Theatre, as a thin faculty child protesting segregation, to arguing in entrance of the Supreme Courtroom, Walter exemplified one of the best of what we will be. However he was additionally a deeply humane, variety, humorous, and humble man. He was an excellent lawyer, an idealist, and a hilarious, gifted storyteller. All three qualities had been intimately linked. Walter dreamed of a greater world, and his deep perception into American regulation and historical past had been then coupled with the storyteller’s artwork within the service of constructing that dream a actuality. Learn his amicus temporary in Lawrence v. Texas. It seizes the reader as solely an incredible storyteller may and forces them to see the injustice of discrimination towards gays and lesbians. Telling the story of the homosexual flight attendant on one of many hijacked planes throughout 9/11, it concludes, “There may be nothing about homosexual women and men in America that justifies treating them as criminally deviant underneath legal guidelines like Texas’ Gay Conduct Legislation. Homosexual males and lesbians are companions and fogeys, neighbors and colleagues, occasional heroes.” The authorized evaluation was, as at all times, rock stable. However the means to provide empathy within the hardest of hearts was all Walter.  

He was an individual who gave me hope — hope that the skilled dedication to fact wouldn’t perish, even within the frenzied assault of the previous few years. He gave me hope for the thought of the rule of regulation, which as he helped me to grasp, is neither a rule, nor a regulation — each information that emphasize its utter fragility. He did all this whereas proving, by his easy existence, the truth that one will be wildly profitable, killer good, and nonetheless the nicest man within the room. Effectively, Walter may do it. I’m not positive about the remainder of us. I can not put into phrases how deep a loss that is. He was one among a sort.

Bradley Butwin

Chair, O’Melveny & Myers, LLP

The world is a greater place for having had Walter Dellinger in it, and we’re heartbroken at his passing. To say he was a ‘residing legend’ doesn’t start to seize the greatness of his mind, coronary heart, and spirit. In each authorities service and personal observe, Walter’s dedication to social justice and equality was unmatched. He was an enormous within the regulation — as a practitioner, a scholar, a counselor, and a statesman — and his authorized accomplishments will endure for generations. Walter was additionally enormously beneficiant and caring; past his household, particularly his soulmate of greater than 50 years, Anne Dellinger, his best pleasure was serving to others succeed. So many owe a lot to him. There’s a remarkably lengthy record of attorneys in academia, in authorities, in enterprise, at regulation corporations, at nonprofits, and on the bench whom Walter helped to search out their place. As he mentored scores of younger attorneys — together with a lot of America’s nice jurists — he additionally took the time to weigh in on lots of the most urgent points going through our society. We take consolation from understanding how a lot he beloved our agency and the enduring influence he had on all of us. We’re all higher off for his knowledge, kindness, and contributions.

Roy Cooper

North Carolina Governor

Kristin and I mourn the passing of Walter Dellinger, an excellent scholar, lawyer, public servant, and good friend. His Supreme Courtroom arguments and methods had been masterful artworks. Each as North Carolina’s lawyer normal and now as governor, I had the privilege of working with Walter on circumstances and coverage, and he made an enduring distinction in our state and nation. He was a drive for good, and our prayers exit to his household and mates. Many individuals who by no means knew him had been helped by the actions he took and the life he led.

Eight justices and an audience of lawyers and journalists look on as Walter Dellinger speaks before the bench.

Dellinger argues earlier than the justices in Exxon Delivery v. Baker in 2008. (Artwork Lien)

Nita Farahany

Robinson O. Everett Professor of Legislation and Professor of Philosophy and Duke Legislation College

Many moons in the past now, I had the consideration of being Walter Dellinger’s analysis assistant whereas I used to be a regulation scholar. He was first my mentor, then years later my colleague at Duke Legislation College, and all through these years, a trusted good friend. He was a luminary in regulation and in life. I’ll miss him, and keep in mind him, together with so many others.

Trina Jones

Jerome M. Culp Professor of Legislation at Duke Legislation College

My first assembly with Walter Dellinger was a lunch at which we mentioned my provide to affix the regulation college at Duke. Walter was serving within the Clinton administration on the time and was a legend on the school. However he was so authentically himself that I felt an instantaneous kinship. We each grew up within the Carolinas — North Carolina for him and South Carolina for me. We talked about rising up within the South, about race, and about regulation. However largely we mentioned my anxiousness — as a 28-year-old Black lady and pretty current regulation college grad — about regulation educating. Walter regaled me with hilarious tales of his mishaps within the classroom (and so they had been epic!). The tales and the shared laughter ended with Walter saying “you may be simply wonderful.” When somebody like Walter expresses confidence in your means, it means one thing. And it did.  

My story isn’t distinctive. Nice mentors — certainly nice academics — encourage us to press past what we expect is feasible for ourselves, and for the world. Walter did that over a lifetime with numerous mentees and college students. His imaginative and prescient and his commitments to justice and fairness challenged us to think about, and to attempt for, a extra simply world. Two weeks in the past, Walter penned a sensible op-ed supporting President Joe Biden’s resolution to nominate a Black lady to the Supreme Courtroom. The op-ed ended with Walter stating, “There are roughly 25,000 Black feminine attorneys in America. There may be each purpose to consider that President Biden’s nomination course of will profit by specializing in that extraordinary group for the subsequent justice of america Supreme Courtroom.”

Nice leaders dedicate their mind and abilities in service to others. Twenty years in the past, Walter used his place of prominence to spice up my confidence as a younger regulation professor. By sharing his personal mishaps as a trainer, he jogged my memory that none of us, not even Walter Dellinger, are good. He revealed a vulnerability that showcased actual power. Fairly than stay silent (which Martin Luther King Jr. warned is the true hazard), Walter continued to make use of his place as probably the most distinguished attorneys within the nation to press for the removing of structural boundaries which have too lengthy excluded ladies of shade.  

Walter Dellinger was a visionary trainer, mentor, and chief. Thanks, Walter. Might we comply with his exceptional instance and use the ability of our voices to realize collective uplift.

Neil Siegel

David W. Ichel Professor of Legislation at Duke Legislation College

Walter Dellinger at all times made everybody round him really feel particular. He made me really feel particular, like I used to be the authorized genius within the room, and he was simply so lucky to have the chance study from me.

He did it after I was a summer time affiliate at his regulation agency, and I gave him assist he didn’t want in an space of regulation I had simply enthusiastically discovered about in regulation college. “The place did we get this man?,” he requested his colleague Sri Srinivasan, a supremely gifted lawyer whose assist he already had. He did it once more the evening earlier than I interviewed at Duke Legislation College for an entry-level place. He hosted a dinner in my honor and handled me like a Supreme Courtroom justice, not just like the rookie job candidate I used to be. He did it but once more after I joined the Duke Legislation college and he hosted a dinner in honor of an precise Supreme Courtroom justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for whom I had just lately clerked. When Walter wasn’t making the justice snicker along with his hilarious tales or slipping out of the room with me to verify faculty basketball scores, he was telling her how fantastic I used to be.

Walter’s ultimate act of generosity in the direction of me was to encourage a regulation evaluation article I wrote and was to current at Duke Legislation on the day he died. He had been trying ahead to attending the workshop. My colleagues and I as a substitute gathered to specific our love for him and our gratitude for the neighborhood he created. 

What’s so extraordinary about my expertise of Walter Dellinger is how strange it’s. He made everybody round him really feel higher about themselves. It was his means of bringing out one of the best in different folks — inspiration via love, not concern. 

Walter was, after all, the true authorized genius within the room. He appeared effortlessly and endlessly to supply penetrating, big-picture insights on regulation and politics and the individuals who moved them. With an enormous coronary heart, deep compassion, unmatched humorousness, and unusual means to inform an incredible story, he grew to become an enormous of American regulation and a champion of a extra inclusive authorized occupation and nation. Each are higher as a result of he lived, and neither would be the similar with out him.

As Walter’s military of family and friends mourn his passing, they may bear his optimism in thoughts. Walter was alive and kicking till the tip, energetic and hope at the same time as he fought to avoid wasting one of the best components of America, its Structure, and its democracy. These of us who’re weak to anger, frustration, and despair would possibly comply with Walter’s instance. We are able to battle for what we consider in and nonetheless snicker, smile, and attempt to inform a good story — even when it received’t be almost as humorous because the one Walter instructed.

Leonard Simon

Of Counsel, Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP

Walter Dellinger taught me civil process 50 years in the past. He instructed us he didn’t know the topic, however promised to remain one week forward of us. He was sensible, humorous, supportive, and obtained us snug with being in regulation college, pondering like attorneys as they are saying. He remained out there to us via the a long time, offering recommendation and steering to any who requested, which had been many. After I had my first and solely Supreme Courtroom argument, he took day trip of a really busy schedule to provide me ideas starting from high-level mental factors about reaching out to sure justices, to the title of the man who may get us additional passes in order that my complete household may attend, to how few notes I ought to have on the podium as a result of they’d simply get in the best way, to being positive to go to the boys’s room simply moments earlier than I entered the courtroom. He may discuss regulation, politics, basketball, historical past, and life with anybody, with knowledge overflowing on every topic. All who knew him will miss him enormously.

Seth Waxman

Chair of Appellate and Supreme Courtroom Litigation at WilmerHale and Former U.S. Solicitor Normal

Walter Dellinger lived a life transcendently nicely lived. Not just because he loved, and extracted, every little thing a life on earth can presumably give. But in addition as a result of he created a world for thus many, many others that was supportive, impressed, and knowledgeable in the perfect sense of these phrases. 

Walter had so many valuable qualities that it’s going to take time to understand and catalogue all of them. He was inquisitive about every little thing. He discovered, after which opined, in regards to the myriad matters that had captured his curiosity, whether or not it was the true which means of a constitutional provision or the qualities of a cleaning soap opera. Walter had the uncommon means to search out and supply lightness even in essentially the most severe circumstances. He was the mannequin of enthusiasm for all times and its joys and challenges. He was a quiet, variety, selfless, and efficient mentor for 1000’s of individuals. And his life was an inspiration for numerous others.  

Walter Dellinger’s life was a blessing to me. His reminiscence, and the instance he set, will certainly be as nicely.  

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