Posted: Jan. 30, 2012


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Never mind that Joe Biden is the vice president. Somewhere inside, part of him is still a lawyer.

"It's a long time since I practiced law, but I want to say to you, 'May it please the courts,'" Biden said.

In a roomful of state chief justices from all over the country, when the Vice President of the United States dredges up the formal language of the courtroom like that, it turns into a funny line where everyone is in on the joke. They laughed.

Biden spoke Monday in the Gold Ballroom of the Hotel du Pont to about 150 people attending a breakfast session of the Conference of Chief Justices, meeting for four days here in Wilmington.

It was a big deal to have Biden come. The judges were invited after he talked to have their pictures taken with him, one by one, and they lined up like school children, waiting for their chance at a photo that could be a conversation piece, even in the chambers of a chief justice.

"He really represented our state well. I'm glad I knew him when he was nobody," wisecracked Mike Kelly, a Wilmington lawyer who was a speaker at the conference.

Although Biden was home, it was not a hometown crowd. He still managed one of his trademark shout-outs, anyway, slipping in a word for Myron Steele, who is the Delaware chief justice but was not always the chief justice. In an earlier life, Steele was a Kent County Democratic chair when Biden was a Democratic senator.

"Chief, back in my public defender days . . ." Biden said.

Other Delawareans at the breakfast were Norman Veasey, the former chief justice who once chaired the conference himself, Leo Strine Jr., the chancellor, Bill Carpenter, a Superior Court judge, Tony de Luca, the state Senate's Democratic president pro tem, Pat Griffin, the state court administrator, Franny Haney, a staff member at the Administrative Office of the Courts, and naturally Beau Biden, the son-the-attorney-general.

Biden's speech, which lasted about a half hour, was subdued, even solemn, like something out of the quiet of the courtroom, not the crackle of the campaign trail he is known for. It must have been the teleprompter. He was reading! This was not the way to let Biden be Biden.

This Joe Biden sounded like the saintly twin of the Joe Biden who once delivered one of his most astounding lines right here in this very Gold Ballroom.

It was shortly after Tom Carper got elected in 2000 as the Democratic senator by ousting Bill Roth, the five-term Republican, and there was a tribute for Roth with Biden, who was very fond of Roth, as one of the speakers. The Gold Ballroom was filled mostly with Republicans, who probably thought there was nothing Biden could say to make them love him, but he did.

"I don't think there was a single Biden that voted a straight ticket the last time," Biden declared. It left people gasping.

Biden spoke to the chief justices about American ideals as a shining example around the globe and the rule of law that is the heart of it. "Folks, you are exceptional. You really are. You are the distinguishing feature in our democracy," he said.

Biden also talked up Delaware. "I'm proud my state is home to two of the finest courts in the nation, the Delaware Court of Chancery and the Delaware Supreme Court," he said.

Sure, Biden is the vice president, but it goes to show why people here persist in thinking that Delaware has a third senator, too.