Former White House Counsel Launches Ludwig Citizenship and Equality Series
Dana Remus ’02, recently departed White House Counsel to President Joe Biden, spoke about her experience as the “lawyer for the Presidency” in a wide-ranging conversation with Professor Cristina Rodríguez ’00 on Sept 20. The event inaugurated the Ludwig Citizenship and Equality Speaker Series, an important new resource for providing insight into the nuances of government which will be administered through The Tsai Leadership Program.
“Dana brought our students a keen awareness of the challenges and rewards of ‘political lawyering’ – a career choice she never imagined while she studied at YLS,” said Don Carlson, Senior Executive Director of The Tsai Leadership Program. “Fresh from the rigors of three years of intense lawyering, first as general counsel of a successful presidential campaign and then as chief lawyer for the Presidency, Dana has barely had time to decompress from the incredible stresses of those jobs. She offered a ‘hot take’ on political lawyering as a rewarding career option.”
Remus compared her role as White House counsel to that of a general counsel, mediating the relationship with “outside counsel” in the Department of Justice. Her team of attorneys spanned issues from judicial nominations to foreign affairs, and from domestic policy to a newly created team dedicated to racial justice and equity. She was succeeded in the role by her deputy, Stuart Delery ’93.
Remus’s overarching objective in the White House was to restore respect for the norms of government and the rule of law, even when that responsibility obliged her to stand in the way of policies she favored when they exceeded the scope of executive authority or were contrary to law. Remus took care to remain true to her duties as legal counsel to the Presidency, never confusing her role with that of “the policy maker” whom she advised.
In response to Rodriguez’s question about her most joyful moment in the job, Remus cited her role in advancing Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. Remus was a member of the team that advised President Joe Biden during the nomination process and prepared Jackson for her confirmation hearings.
“So much of what you do in the White House is stressful and addressing problems and avoiding disasters and to get to do something so positive and historic was a joyous process,” Remus said.
Conversely, Remus said her biggest disappointment was not making greater headway to protect voting rights.
“We were never going to get that [voting] bill passed as the behemoth that it was,” Remus said. “If we were willing to be more strategic about what the essential pieces we needed to get passed, we may have been able” to get something enacted by this evenly divided Congress.
Based on her own experience, Remus advised YLS students to let go of their worries about whether their work will make a difference.
“Don’t worry too much about the certainty that you are going to make the ultimate difference you want to make,” Remus said. “Worry about finding something that feels inspiring to you, where you feel like you can make a contribution — where you’re going to work really hard not because you have to, but because you’re inspired to. It might not lead to the change or result you want, but it might lead to some other opportunity or you might inspire someone else. Just trust that it will somehow make a difference.”
Carlson admired Remus’s encouragement for students not to over plan the early stages of their careers.
“She pressed students to find an intellectual challenge that excites their passions and trust those passions to lead them into roles where they can make a relevant contribution,” Carlson said. “Her candid account of her own life story shows that grit, commitment, and openness to fortuity can create a deeply rewarding, professional trajectory.”
Remus answered questions from students ranging from her perspective on work-life balance (she was five months pregnant when candidate Joe Biden asked her to be general counsel to his campaign) to her thoughts on the momentary flicker of bipartisan congressional leadership after the Jan. 6 insurrection. From her position on the Biden transition team, she reflected that “January 6 changed everything” and required her to shift much of her focus to the peaceful transfer of power, something that her predecessors had been able to take for granted. She continues that work now through her efforts with former White House Counsel Bob Bauer to rewrite the Electoral Count Act.
Responding to a student question about her clerkship with Justice Samuel Alito ’75, Remus commented that the experience helped her build self-confidence. She learned to sharpen her thinking and articulate her arguments with precision.
“In terms of what needs fixing in our democracy, if we all just were forced to talk more regularly with people we disagreed with, it would go a long way because right now we’re all entrenched in our corners,” Remus said. “It’s fun to talk to people we agree with, but it doesn’t advance our thinking very much.”
“The event gave students unique insight into so many ways that lawyers play essential leadership roles in realizing political and policy visions, with Remus as a shining example of professionalism, accomplishment, and wisdom,” said Rodríguez, who also serves as Faculty Director for the Ludwig Program in Public Sector Leadership.
“Dana Remus’s career is a great example of the kind of nonlinear career path available to Yale Law graduates and learning more about these leadership roles and career paths can be helpful to students as they plan their own careers as leaders in public service and the public sector,” said Margie Adler, Executive Director for the Ludwig Program.
The Ludwig Citizenship and Equality Speaker Series brings speakers to the Law School campus to meet with Ludwig Fellows and others in the Yale Law School community and aims to highlight the careers of prominent leaders working in government, nonprofits, and other public service-focused organizations.
The Carol and Gene Ludwig Program in Public Sector Leadership, part of The Tsai Leadership Program at Yale Law School, provides focused educational and professional development to Yale Law School students who aspire to traditional and nontraditional careers and leadership roles in the public sector.