Lawyers in Obama's Cabinet


Many of President-elect Barack Obama's major cabinet selection's have been made and it is remarkable how many lawyers have been elected to or nominated for the more prestigious executive positions. Joining lawyers President Obama (Harvard 1991) and Vice President Joe Biden (Syracuse 1968) are nominees as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton (Yale 1973), Attorney General, Eric Holder (Columbia 1976), and Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano (Virginia 1979).

While the office of attorney-general is obviously a lawyer's job, a surprising number of secretaries of state have been attorneys, including some of the best including John Jay, John Quincy Adams, James Monroe Henry Clay, Elihu Root, Cordell Hull, Dean Acheson and James A. Baker III (to name just a few). The new position as Secretary for Homeland Security is settling in as a job for lawyers, with the first two chiefs,Tom Ridge (Penn. 1972) and Michael Chertoff (Harvard 1975) having been prosecutors.

I was curious to see when the last time these same top four jobs (Prez, Veep, SecState & AG) were all held by lawyers. It turns out it was Richard Nixon's (Duke 1937) first term, before VP Spiro Agnew (Baltimore 1947) resigned, William P. Rogers (Cornell 1937) was pushed out by Henry Kissinger, and John Mitchell (Fordham 1938) left in the midst of Watergate.

Not a great example but Washington's first cabinet (with the exception of War Secretary Henry Knox) had all been called to the bar and while the Great Man had merely dabbled, Vice President John Adams, Secretary of State John Jay, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton and Attorney General Edmund Randolph had all been working lawyers.



America's Lawyer-Presidents: From Law Office to Oval Office. Evanston, Ill: North Western University Press, 2004. (Order from ABA)

Herring, George C. From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.