A Tradition of Leadership: Law School Alumni in Public Service

Author: 
Robin I. Mordfin

As everyone knows, the man holding the highest public office in the land was once an Illinois state senator who also taught constitutional law and other classes at the University of Chicago Law School. President Barack Obama is the most famous member of the Chicago Law family to serve his country, but he's far from the only one. Alumni and faculty have long been elected to public office on the local, state, and federal levels. They have served the public interest through nonprofits, clinics, foundations, and think tanks, domestically and abroad. Whether helping one person receive adequate compensation through a lawsuit or helping the entire country establish a better judicial system, Law School alumni lead the way in making the world a better place.

Leaders in Government

Chicago alumni are influential in politics, with leaders on the right, left, and everywhere in between emerging from the Law School campus. The Law School prides itself on "the life of the mind" and rigorous debate, with all political ideas subject to scrutiny and examination.

"The University of Chicago Law School provides a learning environment that is characterized both by intense intellectual engagement and by a diversity of political views," said Susan J. Curry, Director of Public Interest Law and Policy. "This combination provides a law school experience that has proven to be a fertile training ground for public service leaders."

That diversity is clear in two men who have gone on to serve as U.S. Attorney General: Ramsey Clark, '50, and John Ashcroft, '67. Clark, appointed by President Johnson, was instrumental in drafting and passing the Civil Rights Act and traveled the South in the 1960s to investigate school integration. Later, he became a controversial figure when he offered legal defense to Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein.

Ashcroft served under President Bush and was considered a leading conservative in post–September 11 America, known for an aggressive stance against terrorism and supporting the Patriot Act. Before his appointment, he served as the U.S. Senator from Missouri and two consecutive terms as governor, the only Republican ever to have done so.

Ashcroft, a Chicago native, once described the Law School as "having had an arduous set of rigorous demands as any place in the country… analytical and hard-nosed." He also said the Law School was "not a touchy-feely place," and while that may have been true, he did meet his wife Janet, '68, here.

Clark and Ashcroft aren't the only bold names to journey from the Law School to the Department of Justice. In fact, another Chicago graduate rescued the department after the Watergate scandal. Edward Levi, '35, was credited by President Gerald Ford and others for restoring integrity to the Justice Department.

At Chicago, Levi served as University President, University Provost, and as Dean of the Law School. Upon his death, in 2000, Ford called him one of his finest cabinet members. (The1930s produced another graduate who would take his place in history: Bernard Meltzer, '37, helped prosecute the Nuremberg Trials and members of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.)

Since the beginning of the Law School's history, alumni have served in cabinet and senior Executive Branch positions. Harold Ickes, '07 (that's 1907), served as FDR's Secretary of the Interior for 13 years and is the second-longest serving Cabinet Member in history. Other Chicago alumni who have served in the Attorney General's office include Robert Bork, '53, who worked as both Acting Attorney General and Solicitor General, and James Comey, '85, who made headlines as Deputy Attorney General in the George W. Bush administration.

Rex Lee, '63, also served as Solicitor General. This tradition of government service, of course, strongly continues to this day. Lisa Monaco, '97, is currently the Assistant Attorney General for National Security. Monaco served as counsel for Attorney General Janet Reno from 1998 to 2001 and then worked as a federal prosecutor for six years, where she participated in the Enron prosecution and received the Attorney General's Award for Exceptional Service. In 2007 she became chief of staff to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller and then Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General before taking on her current role in 2011.

James Santelle, '83, has been U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin since January 2010. Before that, he earned the Edmund G. Randolph Award by the Department of Justice for his work in Iraq, where he held several leadership positions. In 2006, he was named Resident Legal Advisor at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, where he worked to develop a fair and productive justice system. He also was named the Justice Attache, responsible for supervision of Rule of Law programs in Iraq, and Rule of Law Coordinator for the U.S. Mission in Iraq, responsible for improving the judicial system on behalf of the Iraqi people.

Of course, you don't have to stay within the Department of Justice to find Chicago alumni in government. Alumni have been ambassadors, such as James Hormel, '58, and Carol Moseley Braun, '72. Hormel was the ambassador to Luxembourg from 1999 to 2001, and made history as the first openly gay person to represent the nation as an ambassador. Moseley Braun was the first African-American woman elected to the Senate when she took office in 1993, and she gained a reputation for being an advocate for health care and education reform. In 1999, President Bill Clinton named her Ambassador to New Zealand.

While serving in New Zealand, Moseley Braun wrote a letter that was published in the fall 2000 Record calling the Law School "a singular influence in my life."

"Not only did it provide me with a world-class legal education, but it also gave me the analytical tools with which to approach policy issues and legal questions." She went on to write that she found the Law School is held in high esteem around the world, even all the way in New Zealand.

Another Chicago trailblazer is U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, '85, the first woman elected to the Senate from Minnesota. Before that, Klobuchar spent eight years as Hennepin County Attorney, which includes Minneapolis and 45 suburbs. In that role, she pushed for the passage of Minnesota's first felony DWI law and was credited with making the county safer as her office secured 300 homicide convictions. In 2008, The New York Times named her in a story about women who could become the first female President. Klobuchar is only the most recent of our alumni to serve in Congress, as she follows in the footsteps of, among others, Ashcroft; Patsy Mink,'51; David MacIntosh, '83; Abner Mikva, '51; Jim Talent, '81; and Abraham Ribicoff, '33, who also served as Governor of Connecticut and in President Kennedy's Cabinet.

Many alumni have held several jobs in the federal government. Perhaps most well known is Mikva, who served not only in Congress but as White House Counsel to President Clinton and as Chief Judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Philip Verveer, '69, is Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy, a role he has filled since 2009. Verveer, who has been called one of the nation's top communications lawyers, previously worked as a trial attorney in the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice and as a supervisory attorney in the Bureau of Competition of the Federal Trade Commission. And Kenneth Dam, '57, has served as both Deputy Secretary of the Treasury (2001–2003) and Deputy Secretary of State (1982–1985), as well as Executive Director of the White House's Council on Economic Policy. He is now a professor emeritus at the Law School.

Though the Law School can't claim an alumnus or alumna as President—yet—the school has had many alumni working in critical roles in the executive branch. Lisa Ellman, '05, was a student of then-Professor Obama and wrote a book with Professor Cass Sunstein. Shortly after graduation she put both of those connections to good use, working on the Policy/Political Team for President Obama's campaign, then as Legal Director of the Office of Presidential Personnel, Senior Counsel in the Office of Legal Policy, and now as Senior Counsel to OIRA, OMB, and the White House. Susan Davies, '91, has had a long career in the federal government and served as Deputy Counsel to the President from 2010 to 2011. She was special counsel to President Clinton in 1994 and also worked for the Department of Justice, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, and the Office of the Solicitor General.

Lisa Brown, '86, is the current White House Staff Secretary, a job she has held since January 20, 2008, when Obama was sworn into office. In 2004, Brown said she chose the Law School because the lawyers she spoke with said it was the best place to be.

"I was immediately taken by the intellectual environment, by the Socratic method," she said, speaking at a time when she was Executive Director oft he American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, a liberal-leaning organization. Brown said the Law School was a place where all points of view were welcome and challenged.

"The emphasis was not on a particular point of view, but on the importance of defending your point of view in the strongest way possible, with rigorous analysis. It was about the interplay of ideas, the debate. That is what makes American law and democracy strong."

Federal agencies benefit from the hard work of Chicago alumni, too. At the Department of Homeland Security, Mary Ellen Callahan, '97, serves as Chief Privacy Officer and Chief Freedom of Information Act Officer. Eric Waldo, '06, has been deputy chief of staff or policy and programs in the office of the Secretary of Education since November 2010, and Ann Bushmiller, '82, is Senior Legal Counsel for the National Science Board of the United States.

One of D.C.'s landmarks, the Washington National Cathedral, is overseen by Kathleen Cox, '79, who serves as Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer. Previously, Cox served as President and CEO oft he Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Law school alumni have had made an impact in state and local government as well. Dan Doctoroff, '84, famously served NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg as Deputy Mayor responsible for Economic Development and Rebuilding for the City of New York from 2001 to 2007.With Mayor Bloomberg, Doctoroff led a successful plan to rebuild downtown after September 11. He also spearheaded an environmental plan for the city that aims for a 30 percent reduction in global warming emissions by 2030. Doctoroff is now CEO and President of Bloomberg L.P. and a University of Chicago trustee. Cas Holloway, '02, is keeping the Chicago Law presence alive in the NYC Mayor's Office, where he is currently Deputy Mayor for Operations. (See profile on page 10.)

Quite a few alumni have served in important state government roles, including in state legislatures. Richard Cordray, '86, for example, served as an Ohio State Representative before becoming, sequentially, Ohio's Solicitor General, State Treasurer, and Attorney General. Cordray is currently serving as the first Director of the United States Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Closer to home, David Hoffman, '95, was Inspector General for the city of Chicago and worked to uncover corruption, fraud, misconduct, and waste in city government, having served as Assistant U. S. Attorney in Chicago from 1998 to 2005. He ran for Senate from Illinois in 2010 and currently teaches a course in public corruption at the Law School.

Of course, the Law School has produced many judges who serve the public interest. They won't be described here, however, but in an upcoming Record story.

Beyond Government Service

It is hardly the case that all Law School alumni who serve the public do so in the government. On the contrary, Chicago Law alumni serve in leadership positions all over the country and the world in public service organizations and NGOs. Many of these groups focus on the poor and vulnerable or on issues such as education or sex trafficking. Others promote culture, the arts, or a particular viewpoint.

Lillian Johnson, '75, has served as Executive Director of Community Legal Services, Arizona's largest nonprofit civil legal aid program since 1982. President Obama selected Johnson as a "White House Champion of Change" in 2011 for her lifelong dedication to closing the access-to-justice gap in America.

Diana White, '81, performs a similar role in Chicago. White has served as Executive Director for LAF (Legal Assistance Foundation) in Chicago since 2007 and has been a board member of the Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice since 2003. The Legal Assistance Foundation provides civil legal services to low-income people and offers Chicago law students service-learning opportunities. Likewise, the Appleseed Fund is a social justice organization that focuses on topics such as reforming the criminal justice system.

White said that during her era at the law school, public interest work was not a major focus for most students. Clinic spots were rather limited, and White focused on the law review and interviewing with private firms. The groundwork for a public service focus was beginning, however: White remembers the public interest auction, in which students raise money to do public interest work, starting during her time here.

Chicago law graduates from several generations work as professional advocates. Willard Ogburn, who earned his JD in 1973, has spent 25 years as Executive Director of the National Consumer Law Center, a nonprofit advocacy organization that works to build economic security for low-income Americans. Paul Levy, '76, has been an attorney with the Public Citizen Litigation Group since 1977, most recently specializing in free speech issues on the Internet. He has argued four cases before the Supreme Court. And Maggie Blinn DiNovi, '96, is Executive Director of the Chicago office of New Leaders, a national nonprofit that develops school leaders and curricula to improve school systems across the country, with special focus on students in poverty and children of color.

Gary Haugen, '91, has used his law degree well in a long and accomplished career in human rights work. Haugen is the founder of International Justice Mission, a human rights nonprofit that works to secure justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation, and other forms of oppression. He currently serves as President and CEO. In a previous role, while working for the Department of Justice in 1994, he was assigned to work with the United Nations as the Officer in Charge of the genocide investigation in Rwanda. He directed an international team of law enforcement, lawyers, prosecutors, and forensics experts in building evidence against the perpetrators. Haugen's work and International Justice Mission have been profiled on national TV several times. He is the author of the books Good News about Injustice and Just Courage, with another book, this one on the crisis of lawlessness in the developing world, due in 2013.

Chicago alumni also lead political advocacy groups on both sides of the aisle. For example, Ralph Neas, '71, was formerly the president of the liberal group People for the American Way. Before that, Neas led the effort to block President Ronald Reagan's nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. He had much less success during the Bush administration, but when he left his post, The Chicago Tribune called him a "top liberal foe of conservative judges." Neas is now head of the Generic Pharmaceutical Association, an industry group for generic drug makers.

On the other end of the political spectrum is Liz Cheney, '96, a board member of Keep America Safe and the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney. Keep America Safe is a conservative group focused on national security. Cheney has served two stints as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs and has worked for the World Bank Group and the Department of State.

Other alumni serve in a watchdog role, working to ensure fairness in litigation and business dealings. Ted Frank, '94, is the founder and president of the Center for Class Action Fairness, which is a public interest law firm representing consumers who are dissatisfied with their counsel in class-action suits. J. Gordon Seymour, '93, is the General Counsel and Secretary oft he Public Company Accountability and Oversight Board, which oversees the audits of companies to protect the interests of investors and the public. And Nell Minow, '77, among many other roles, was a co-founder of The Corporate Library, an independent research group that rates the boards of directors of public companies.

Finally, some Chicago lawyers choose to spend their careers at charitable foundations that make so much nonprofit work possible. For example, Deborah Leff, '77, has held leadership positions in several prestigious foundations, most recently serving as President of the Public Welfare Foundation and Director oft he John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Also on the long list of organizations she has led are the Joyce Foundation and America's Second Harvest. Before her foundation work, she held several posts in the federal government, and she has recently returned there, now serving as Deputy Counselor for Access to Justice at the U.S. Department of Justice. Barron M. Tenney, '69, spent more than a quarter of a century at the Ford Foundation, recently completing his tenure there as Executive Vice President, Secretary, and General Counsel. Before joining the Foundation, he spent nine years at the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, a community development corporation in Brooklyn.

Shari Patrick, '82, joined the Rockefeller Foundation in 2008 and currently serves as General Counsel and Corporate Secretary. Lorraine Egan, '84, is President and CEO oft he Damon Runyon Cancer Foundation in New York. Similarly, Gary Edson, '82, is Chief Executive Officer of the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund, where he deploys funds and works to rebuild Haiti's economy. Before he took the leadership position at the foundation in 2010, he served as Deputy National Security Advisor, Deputy National Economic Advisor, and Deputy Assistant to the President for International Affairs in the George W. Bush administration.

The history of public service at the Law School is long and rich, and today's students are poised to continue that tradition. The opportunities for gaining experience in public service are greater than ever, said Jeff Leslie, Clinical Professor of Law in the Edwin F. Mandel Legal Aid Clinic. Years ago, "clinics were the major outlets for public interest oriented students," he said. "Now they have many outlets." And as such, even more alumni should be entering public service in the years to come, Leslie added.

Maybe that Chicago Law student-turned-President isn't too far off.

Comments

Don't Forget Bert

An outstanding leader in nonprofit advocacy is Bert Foer 70'/73' founder and president of the American Antitrust Institute, champion of truly free markets - free of anti-competitive practices of all kinds. Don't forget his Important work, especially in keeping the flame alive during the Anything Goes administration of Shrub 44'.

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