March 7, 2017

R.I.P., DOUG HENRY. The last time I saw him was at Bob Simms’ funeral, where to my surprise he recognized me. When I was an intern for the State Senate in college, my office was right across the hall from his. I remember I was in working on a Saturday and hardly anyone else was around, but he was in his office. He had a broken leg and he had his cast propped up on a chair while he read through reports. We chatted a bit, somehow it came up that I was reading Omar Khayyam, and we wound up having a long and interesting conversation on the subject. Although I think a lot of the other college-aged interns (and me too, at first) discounted him because he seemed like such an Old South figure, he was enormously smart and always treated everyone with respect, if sometimes of an absent-minded variety.

Henry was, with Ned Ray McWherter and John Jay Hooker, one of the very last of the old-fashioned Southern Democrats. Unlike the more modern Bob Forehead generation, these old-style pols didn’t display contempt for voters, or political opponents. As everyone does, they had their flaws, but we’re worse off without them. And, of course, if Al Gore had listened to Ned Ray McWherter in the summer of 2000, he’d have been President.

UPDATE: Stewart Baker emails: “A towering presence and a humble man. My Doug Henry story has to do with NY v. US, which I believe put constitutional federalism on a far more secure footing than National League of Cities, a precedent Justice Blackmun was slowly eating away. I was working with the State and Local Legal Center, and Sen. Henry wanted to make a strong federalism argument in NY v. US but couldn’t get the political support to file. So instead he hired me for $10 thousand of his own money to file amicus in the case. On that budget, I couldn’t do any legal research to speak of, so I wrote an op-ed and sprinkled it with cites. The result was a strong brief — and eventually a strong Court opinion — arguing that it was a violation of federalism for Congress to order states to engage in rulemaking or other governmental tasks. All due to Sen. Henry’s commitment to the cause (and his limited budget).”

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