President Barack Obama is nominating Sidley Austin partner Virginia Seitz for the highly sensitive job of heading the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, the White House said today.
The nomination follows months of speculation that Seitz would get the nod. An appellate litigator in the firm’s Washington office, Seitz is probably best known for authoring an amicus brief on behalf of retired military officers in support of affirmative action in the U.S. Supreme Court case Grutter v. Bollinger.
OLC has been a flashpoint for partisan disagreement, especially on issues related to national security. During President George W. Bush’s administration, its leadership authored opinions supporting the legality of water-boarding and other intense interrogation techniques. That prompted an internal DOJ investigation, in which the lawyers, including John Yoo and Jay Bybee, faced criticism but no disciplinary action.
The office has not had a Senate-confirmed head since Jack Goldsmith, now a Harvard Law School professor, left in 2004. Democrats blocked Bush’s nominees, and Republicans blocked President Barack Obama’s first nominee, Indiana University Maurer School of Law-Bloomington professor Dawn Johnsen.
In a news release announcing Seitz’s nomination and four others, Obama said that the “extraordinary dedication these men and women bring to their new roles will greatly serve the American people.”
In 2007, Legal Times profiled Seitz, noting among other things her successful balance of motherhood and a Big Law career. The story reported: “Although Seitz defines herself as part time, this is the reality: She’s in the firm’s Washington, D.C., office every day at 6 a.m. and leaves by 2:55 p.m. to pick up her children, 12-year-old Roy and 15-year-old Miranda, from school.”
Seitz is a former clerk for Judge Harry Edwards of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and for Justice William Brennan. Last year, she authored an amicus brief in Beer v. U.S., a case about judicial pay that federal judges have been watching closely.