My Joe Biden Story

I graduated from Penn Law in Philadelphia on a beautiful spring day in 1987, two hundred years after the Constitutional Convention wrapped up its work and sent the Constitution to the states for ratification.

As founder of the Penn Law chapter of the Federalist Society, I had spent the school year organizing celebrations of the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution with special events like a visit from Justice Warren Burger, who handed out Constitutions to students and faculty. (It was a real service as most of the faculty and nearly all of the students had never bothered to study or even read the Constitution.)

In order to celebrate the bicentennial, I asked the law school and federal park service if we could hold our law school graduation ceremony at Independence Hall. The law school was founded in 1790 by people central to that Miracle in Philadelphia; Ben Franklin was key to the founding of the college and other important institutions in Philadelphia.

I succeeded in getting the ceremony moved to the federal park, next to Independence Hall at the Second Bank. Good enough.

Now came the question: who was going to speak at our graduation? I pitched a number of Federalist Society heroes but the class chose Senator Joe Biden despite controversies that raised issues about his character.

Senator Biden received a warm welcome from the audience but the level of enthusiasm for our speaker quickly dropped. Biden was in a good mood; he told us about his law school days, with an emphasis on the fact that he did not work very hard and did not take it seriously, while complimenting all of us on how hard we had worked. I guess we were supposed to be charmed by the contrast and his self-deprecating humor.  The rest of the speech was devoid of substance. I glanced at the guy who had championed Biden as the speaker; he looked miserable.

After the ceremony, Biden was glad-handing so I walked up to him. “Senator Biden, I wanted to say hello and thank you for coming today.” He was flashing me that pepsodent smile of his, and extended a warm friendly hug. As I leaned in, I said to him, “Senator, I am the founder and president of the Federalist Society.”

He dropped the smile, pulled away, looked at his staffer and pointed to the podium you see behind me in the photo. Gosh, he did not even say goodbye. Or give me a parting wet kiss on the mouth, or in my hair. Sigh.

As you can see, my cousin Cynthia and I found the whole thing very funny.

The New York Times reported that fall, while Biden was running for president, that he had confessed to plagiarism in law school but said it was not “malevolent.”

Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., fighting to salvage his Presidential campaign, today acknowledged ”a mistake” in his youth, when he plagiarized a law review article for a paper he wrote in his first year at law school.

Mr. Biden insisted, however, that he had done nothing ”malevolent,” that he had simply misunderstood the need to cite sources carefully. And he asserted that another controversy, concerning recent reports of his using material from others’ speeches without attribution, was ”much ado about nothing.”

Mr. Biden, the 44-year-old Delaware Democrat who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, addressed these issues at the Capitol in a morning news conference he had called expressly for that purpose. The news conference was held just before he presided over the third day of hearings on the nomination of Judge Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court. (emphasis added)

Judge Bork, who was savaged by Biden during his confirmation hearing, was one of the people I had pitched to the Class of ’87 to be our speaker.