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Profile: Walter Dellinger

Walter Dellinger was a participant or observer in the following events:

Walter Dellinger, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, writes of the necessity for presidential signing statements: “If the president may properly decline to enforce a law, at least when it unconstitutionally encroaches on his powers, then it arguably follows that he may properly announce to Congress and to the public that he will not enforce a provision of an enactment he is signing. If so, then a signing statement that challenges what the president determines to be an unconstitutional encroachment on his power, or that announces the president’s unwillingness to enforce… such a provision, can be a valid and reasonable exercise of presidential authority.” President Clinton will issue signing statements challenging or commenting on 140 legislative provisions during his eight years in office (see February 1996). [Savage, 2007, pp. 235]

Entity Tags: Walter Dellinger, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Clinton administration, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Congress passes a military budget that includes a section requiring the Pentagon to discharge all HIV-positive soldiers, regardless of their overall health. When President Clinton signs the bill, he issues a signing statement declaring he has “concluded that this discriminatory provision is unconstitutional.” He urges Congress to repeal the statute, and says he will refuse to allow the Justice Department to defend the law in court if an HIV-positive soldier sues the government. However, Clinton’s legal team, including the Justice Department’s head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Walter Dellinger, and White House counsel Jack Quinn, tells reporters that while Clinton believes the provision is unconstitutional, he cannot refuse to enforce it because no court ruling has supported his view. Until a court intervenes, the president is bound by Congress’s decision. “When the president’s obligation to execute laws enacted by Congress is in tension with his responsibility to act in accordance to the Constitution, questions arise that really go to the very heart of the system, and the president can decline to comply with the law, in our view, only where there is a judgment that the Supreme Court has resolved the issue.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 235-236]

Entity Tags: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Jack Quinn, Walter Dellinger, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, US Supreme Court, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist (see September 26, 1986), 80, dies after a ten-month battle with thyroid cancer. He will be replaced by John Roberts (see September 29, 2005), who formerly clerked for him. Rehnquist’s term as Chief Justice marked a “sea change” in the direction of the Court. Former Clinton solicitor general Walter Dellinger says: “It is quite clear that there are three dominant chief justices of American history, and they are John Marshall, Earl Warren, and William H. Rehnquist. I think that there’s just no question that he’s of enormous historical importance.” Conservative law professor and former Reagan Justice Department official Douglas Kmiec, a co-founder of the Federalist Society, says that Rehnquist presided over a “sea change” in the Court, taking it sharply to the right. [National Public Radio, 7/20/2005; Legal Times, 9/5/2005; Dean, 2007, pp. 129-137]

Entity Tags: William Rehnquist, US Supreme Court, Walter Dellinger, John G. Roberts, Jr, Douglas Kmiec, John Marshall, Earl Warren

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Fourteen law professors and former federal officials send a letter criticizing the Justice Department’s recent legal arguments supporting the legality of the secret NSA surveillance program (see December 19, 2005 and December 21-22, 2005). The letter is signed by law professors Curtis A. Bradley, a former State Department legal advisor; David Cole; Walter Dellinger, a former acting solicitor general and assistant attorney general; Ronald Dworkin; Richard Epstein; Harold Koh, a former assistant secretary of state and a former Justice Department official; Philip B. Heymann, a former deputy attorney general; Martin Lederman, a former Justice Department official; Beth Nolan, a former presidential counsel and a former Justice Department official; William S. Sessions, the former director of the FBI; Geoffrey R. Stone; Kathleen M. Sullivan; Laurence H. Tribe; and William Van Alstyne, a former Justice Department attorney. The letter is couched in legal language, but clearly states that the signees consider the NSA surveillance program entirely illegal: “[T]he program appears on its face to violate existing law.” The signees consider and reject the Justice Department’s argument that Congress “implicitly authorized the NSA program when it enacted the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against al-Qaeda” in 2001 (see September 14-18, 2001), writing: “[T]he AUMF cannot reasonably be construed to implicitly authorize warrantless electronic surveillance in the United States during wartime, where Congress has expressly and specifically addressed that precise question in FISA and limited any such warrantless surveillance to the first 15 days of war.” The signees also reject the Justice Department’s argument that the president’s “inherent constitutional authority as commander in chief to collect ‘signals intelligence’” is not prohibited by FISA. The signees conclude that the Justice Department has failed “to offer a plausible legal defense of the NSA domestic spying program. If the administration felt that FISA was insufficient, the proper course was to seek legislative amendment, as it did with other aspects of FISA in the Patriot Act, and as Congress expressly contemplated when it enacted the wartime wiretap provision in FISA. One of the crucial features of a constitutional democracy is that it is always open to the president—or anyone else—to seek to change the law. But it is also beyond dispute that, in such a democracy, the president cannot simply violate criminal laws behind closed doors because he deems them obsolete or impracticable.” [Marty Lederman, 1/9/2006; Center for Democracy and Technology, 1/9/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Harold Koh, William S. Sessions, William Van Alstyne, Curtis Bradley, Beth Nolan, Geoffrey Stone, US Department of Justice, Walter Dellinger, Richard Epstein, Martin (“Marty”) Lederman, Laurence Tribe, Kathleen M. Sullivan, Ronald Dworkin, National Security Agency, Philip Heymann, David D. Cole

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Steven Bradbury, the outgoing head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a legal opinion finding certain earlier opinions from the OLC invalid. Bradbury is referring to several memos issued by former OLC lawyers John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and others after the 9/11 attacks (see March 2, 2009).
'Doubtful Nature' - Bradbury writes that these opinions had not been relied upon since 2003, and notes that it is important to acknowledge in writing “the doubtful nature of these propositions.” The opinions “do not currently reflect, and have not for some years reflected, the views of the” OLC, Bradbury writes, “and on several occasions we have already acknowledged the doubtful nature of these propositions.”
President's Position - One portion of Bradbury’s memo says it is “not sustainable” to argue that the president’s power as commander in chief “precludes Congress from enacting any legislation concerning the detention, interrogation, prosecution, and transfer of enemy combatants.” Bradbury is referring to a 2002 memo that claimed President Bush could order the “rendition” of detainees to other countries without regard to Congressional legislation (see March 13, 2002).
'Novel and Complex Questions' - In repudiating the memos, Bradbury writes that they were the product of Yoo and others confronting what he calls “novel and complex questions in a time of great danger and under extraordinary time pressure.” [US Department of Justice, 1/15/2009 pdf file; New York Times, 3/2/2009; Reuters, 3/2/2009]
Response - Yale law professor Jack Balkin later notes that the memo does not repudiate “any of the Bush administration’s specific policies regarding surveillance, detention, and interrogation.” [Jack Balkin, 3/3/2009] In 2004, the Justice Department repudiated the so-called “golden shield” memo, written by Yoo and the then-chief counsel for Vice President Cheney, David Addington, which gave US personnel almost unlimited authority to torture prisoners (see August 1, 2002). The New York Times writes that Bradbury’s last-minute memo “appears to have been the Bush lawyers’ last effort to reconcile their views with the wide rejection by legal scholars and some Supreme Court opinions of the sweeping assertions of presidential authority made earlier by the Justice Department.” Walter Dellinger, who headed the OLC during the Clinton administration, says that Bradbury’s memo “disclaiming the opinions of earlier Bush lawyers sets out in blunt detail how irresponsible those earlier opinions were.” Dellinger says it is important to note that the Bush administration’s assertions “that Congress had absolutely no role in these national security issues was contrary to constitutional text, historical practice, and judicial precedent.” [New York Times, 3/2/2009] Bradbury, who like Yoo and Bybee may face disbarment, is careful to note that while the legal opinions are invalid, he is not suggesting that the authors did not “satisfy” professional standards. [Washington Post, 3/3/2009]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Steven Bradbury, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), New York Times, Walter Dellinger, Jay S. Bybee, Jack Balkin, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Legal experts and civil libertarians are “stunned” by the recently released memos from the Bush-era Justice Department which assert sweeping powers for the president not granted by the Constitution (see March 2, 2009 and March 3, 2009). Yale law professor Jack Balkin calls the memos a demonstration of the Bush “theory of presidential dictatorship.” Balkin continues: “They say the battlefield is everywhere. And the president can do anything he wants, so long as it involves the military and the enemy.… These views are outrageous and inconsistent with basic principles of the Constitution as well as with two centuries of legal precedents. Yet they were the basic assumptions of key players in the Bush administration in the days following 9/11.” George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr agrees. “I agree with the left on this one,” he says. The approach in the memos “was simply not a plausible reading of the case law. The Bush [Office of Legal Counsel, or OLC] eventually rejected [the] memos because they were wrong on the law—and they were right to do so” (see January 15, 2009). Balkin says the time period of most of the memos—the weeks and months following the 9/11 attacks—merely provided a convenient excuse for the administration’s subversion of the Constitution. “This was a period of panic, and panic creates an opportunity for patriotic politicians to abuse their power,” he says. [Jack Balkin, 3/3/2009; Los Angeles Times, 3/4/2009] Civil litigator and columnist Glenn Greenwald writes that the memos helped provide the foundation for what he calls “the regime of secret laws under which we were ruled for the last eight years… the grotesque blueprint for what the US government became.” [Salon, 3/3/2009] Duke University law professor Walter Dellinger says that, contrary to the memos’ assertion of blanket presidential powers in wartime, Congress has considerable powers during such a time. Congress has, according to the Constitution, “all legislative powers,” including the power “to declare war… and make rules concerning captures on land and water” as well as “regulation of the land and naval forces.” Dellinger, who headed the OLC during the Clinton administration, continues: “You can never get over how bad these opinions were. The assertion that Congress has no role to play with respect to the detention of prisoners was contrary to the Constitution’s text, to judicial precedent, and to historical practice. For people who supposedly follow the text [of the Constitution], what don’t they understand about the phrase ‘make rules concerning captures on land and water’?” [Los Angeles Times, 3/4/2009]

Entity Tags: Orin S. Kerr, US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Jack Balkin, Walter Dellinger, Glenn Greenwald, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Gun rights advocates’ attempts to portray Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) as “anti-gun” hit a snag when a panel of conservative judges upholds her ruling in favor of restricting gun ownership. Sotomayor has been called an “anti-gun radical” by some activists for joining an opinion, cited in Maloney v. Cuomo, that found the Second Amendment does not prevent state and local governments from restricting arms ownership. That ruling, rejecting a challenge to Chicago’s tough gun laws, was unanimously upheld by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which is made up largely of conservative judges. The ruling could, according to the Washington Post, “complicate efforts to portray Sotomayor as a judicial activist trying to undermine the Supreme Court’s landmark decision last year holding that the amendment protects the right to own a gun for self-defense.” The Seventh Circuit’s opinion was written by chief judge Frank Easterbrook, described by the Post as “one of the nation’s leading conservative judges,” and joined by two Republican-appointed judges, including “conservative favorite Richard A. Posner.” Walter Dellinger, who argued a related case and supports Sotomayor’s nomination, says, “When two of the most highly regarded, conservative judges agree that courts of appeal should not reach out and make new law on this issue, it renders Judge Sotomayor’s opinion on this subject beyond criticism.” But some continue their opposition. David Kopel, a lawyer who has criticized Sotomayor’s stance on gun ownership, says the ruling will not change the views of gun activists that she is “anti-gun” and the Maloney opinion was intellectually “dishonest.” [Washington Post, 6/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Sonia Sotomayor, David Kopel, US Supreme Court, Frank Easterbrook, Walter Dellinger, Richard A. Posner

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda

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