Six White House Counsel Speak at Georgetown Law

April 11, 2012 — On April 10, White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler (L’96) and five former counsel gathered at Georgetown Law to reflect on their role as legal adviser to the president.

“It’s adviser, negotiator, mediator, arbitrator, enforcer, cajoler…” said Ruemmler, whose duties vary from handling judicial nominations to serving as the principal point of contact between the president and the Department of Justice.

Ruemmler was joined by Robert Bauer, former counsel for Obama; Beth Nolan (L’80) and Jack Quinn (L’75), both counsel for President Bill Clinton; C. Boyden Gray, counsel for President George H.W. Bush, and Arthur Culvahouse, counsel for President Ronald Reagan. The conversation was moderated by Professor Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor general.

Although the topic on the table was the changing role of White House counsel, the panelists agreed that their work appeared to be consistent as well as challenging — whether the issues arose in a post-Iran Contra or post-9/11 world.

Quinn said that one remarkable thing about the position was having to field questions that no one has ever asked — such as, in a government shutdown, must the Grand Canyon be closed to visitors? (The answer was yes.)

Nolan remarked that when a president leaves office, the work of the White House counsel does too — making incoming counsel turn to their predecessors, at least for a time. “We would call Boyden [and ask,] what did you do?” she said. “You want to know how other White Houses did this.”

-- Ann W. Parks

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