In a recent program sponsored jointly by the Carolina Meadows Global Affairs and University Speakers committees, Walter Dellinger, the Douglas B. Maggs distinguished Professor of Law at Duke University, presented a sweeping panorama of key U.S. Supreme Court decisions from 1954 to the present.
One landmark case was Brown v Board of Education. In April 1954, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Court decided unanimously that compulsory segregation in public schools violated the Equal Protection clause of the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Dellinger reminded the audience, which filled Carolina Meadows’ spacious auditorium, that almost nothing changed in the recalcitrant Southern public schools for a decade – until Congress, prodded by President Lyndon Johnson, enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The speaker’s point was that, while Congress can enact enforceable laws, it is the Supreme Court, with no executive authority, that points the way to justice and shapes national attitudes.
In a sort of footnote to his presentation, Dellinger reminded his listeners that he had spoken at Carolina Meadows two years ago when the Affordable Care Act was under constitutional attack. At that time, he predicted that, in a close decision, the Court would sustain the constitutionality of the Act. A few weeks later, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion fulfilling Dellinger’s prediction.
In a Q & A period Dellinger was asked if he had any reservations about the rationale employed by Chief Justice Roberts in reaching that decision. Dellinger responded that he had none, that he believed the taxing power rationale employed in the opinion was legally and rationally sound. Recently, The National Law Journal named Dellinger to its 2013 list of “100 Most Influential Lawyers in America,” noting: “There exists no constitutional question of great moment in the past several decades that Walter Dellinger has not litigated, debated, written about or taught.”
Walter and Anne Dellinger recently became residents of Carolina Meadows.