Lawyers in the New Obama Administration: A Roundup of Speculation


Even before Barack Obama was elected president Tuesday, Washington pundits were surveying insiders for clues on the possible personel chart of his new administration. As far back as May, the Washingtonian had floated names for the future cabinet and WH staff, and more concrete suggestions were made last week in a Politico article. Lawyers haven't been left out of the game, with this months issue of the ABA Journal discussing the prospects for legal jobs in either an Obama or McCain cabinet. As the ABA journal points out, Obama, a lawyer (and the second Harvard JD as president)*, has surrounded himself with legal talent and his transition team reflects it.

So what are the top legal jobs open? Well only the positions of Attorney General (& deputies) and Solicitator General, WH counsel, dozens of department & agency general counsels, several unfilled federal judgeships and all the US Attorneys. Add in jobs not specifically legal but often held by lawyers like the Secretary of Homeland Security and the heads of the SEC, FCC, FEC, FTC, PTO, as well as jobs not vacant but might soon be (like some seats on the Supreme Court) and you have a lot to discuss.

I'm going avoid major speculation (I'm appending a list of links of the major recent articles), but will note that six names have been floated enough for so many options, that I can't help thinking that it is likely that most will take some role in the Obama administration (or be appointed to a federal court):

  • Eric Holder. Obama VP vetter & Deputy AG under Clinton. (wiki bio)
  • Elena Kagan. Dean of Harvard Law School. (Harvard bio w/ cv; wiki bio)
  • Judge Sonia Sotomayor of New York. U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Second Circuit. (wiki bio; court bio)
  • Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Former US Attorney & state attorney general. (gub bio; wiki bio)
  • Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano. Former US Attorney & State AG. (gub bio; wiki bio)
  • Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. Clinton DOJ; general counsel for Texaco and Coca-Cola. (gub bio; wiki bio)

Holder has been a top Obama advisor throughout the campaign and seems a lock for AG. Napolitano, who could continue the hardnosed theme set by the selection of Raum Emanuel as chief of staff, has been touted for AG and Homeland Security (or maybe the Supreme Court--where the former attorney for Anita Hill could resume her aquaintance with Clarence Thomas). Kagan and Sotomayor have been touted for the Supreme Court with insiders expecting perhaps two liberal justices to retire in the window of time when a Democratic president can replace and the Senate confirm likeminded replacements. Patrick is an Obama soulmate and could see a top job, maybe WH counsel or AG, although the cronyism of the Bush administration (the ghost of Gonzalez hangs thick) may work against him.

But I can't have all the fun, let these guys speak:

* Can you guess the first holder of a Harvard J.D. to be president. Hint: He did not have as decisive a victory as BHO; indeed it more resembled that of Obama's immediate predecessor...