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Rehnquist and the monthy poker game

In 1994, it was my honor to move down the hall into the office occupied by renowned political philosopher and constitutional law scholar, Walter Berns. Berns at the time was retiring from Georgetown as a University Professor, but would continue as a Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. (And even though Walter turned 90 this year, he is still working at AEI!)

Walter Berns receives a 2005 National Humanities Medal

Walter Berns receives a 2005 National Humanities Medal

One thing that I remember Walter telling us about was the famous monthly poker-game that involved some of the country’s legal luminaries. Today, the Blog of LegalTimes tells a moving story about the game:

On Thursday, we began reporting on correspondence found in the latest batch of the papers of the late chief justice William Rehnquist released by the Hoover Institution Archives at Stanford University. Posts are herehere, and here, and we’ll have more today and online tonight and in the print edition of National Law Journal.

Today we’ll start off with a poignant note found in the files from scholar Walter Berns, one of the chief’s fellow poker players in a long-running monthly game that includes some of the most powerful men in Washington.

In the July 2005 note Berns, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, wondered — as many others did — if the July 1 retirement announcement by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor meant that Rehnquist, who was then battling cancer, was “well enough to continue to serve on the Court?” Berns added, “While on the subject, could it be that the time might come when you might again join us at the monthly poker game?”
Berns told Rehnquist that he, Berns, had attended the game in July despite his own ailments, “thanks to Tom who put the plate of food before me, and Royce who put a soft cushion under me, and Hillel who kept me supplied with cigarettes.” Berns was referring to Tom Whitehead, former telecom adviser to President Richard Nixon (since deceased), U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth, and Hillel Fradkin of the Hudson Institute.
“Next game September, at the Berns home,” Berns signed off cheerfully. Rehnquist died Sept. 3, and a note attached to the Berns letter indicates Bern was told in response to his note in July that Rehnquist would not be able to attend.
Reached at AEI, Berns said this week that Rehnquist had first announced his illness to his fellow poker players during a game the previous fall. It was the last game he attended, a sad occasion. Berns, who joked that he is the “corresponding secretary” of the games, said he has records of more than 200 poker evenings going back to the 1980s.
The games go on, Berns said. “The new chief [John Roberts Jr.] replaced the old chief.” Among others who play, according to Berns, are Justice Antonin Scalia, D.C. Circuit Court judge David Sentelle, and Robert Bennett, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.