Virginia Seitz '85 nominated to head Office of Legal Counsel

By Ilene Fleischmann

Release Date: January 19, 2011 This content is archived.


Related Multimedia

Virginia Seitz, a 1985 graduate of the Law School, has been nominated to head the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- President Obama has nominated a 1985 graduate of UB Law School to head the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, a high-profile and highly sensitive position that in recent years has been a flashpoint for partisan political division.

Virginia A. Seitz, who was first in her class at UB Law and the recipient of the Max Koren Award, said that during law school, "I was prodded to not just think in a tiny box, but connect all coursework with what I was doing in other areas."

Since 1998, she has worked in the Washington, D.C., office of the law firm Sidley Austin LLP. There she has done appellate litigation work, and she is best-known for authoring an amicus brief on behalf of retired military officers in support of affirmative action in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Grutter v. Bollinger.

Her appointment as assistant attorney general, announced by the White House on Jan. 5, is subject to Senate confirmation. The office has not had a Senate-confirmed head since 2004. Democrats blocked President George W. Bush's nominees, and Republicans blocked President Obama's first nominee, Indiana University professor Dawn Johnsen.

The Office of Legal Counsel provides legal advice to the president and executive-branch agencies on constitutional and other major issues. It employs about two dozen lawyers. During the Bush administration, the office produced legal opinions on interrogation and detention that endorsed waterboarding and other methods used by the Central Intelligence Agency to question terror suspects. The Bush administration later withdrew several opinions, saying they were erroneous.

In a news release announcing Seitz's nomination and four others, President Obama said that the "extraordinary dedication these men and women bring to their new roles will greatly serve the American people."

Seitz is a former clerk for Judge Harry Edwards of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and for U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan. She has worked on more than 100 Supreme Court briefs and petitions for certiorari, and hundreds of filings in lower courts. Her bachelor's degree, summa cum laude, is from Duke University, and she was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University.

In the brief she filed in the Grutter case, Seitz represented a group of retired military officers. They told the Supreme Court that service members perform better because they take diversity into account. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor cited that argument in the court's landmark 2003 opinion that allowed race to be considered in university admission decisions. "It was one of the most influential amicus briefs probably in the history of the court," said Seitz's Sidley Austin colleague Peter Keisler.

Seitz has worked part time at Sidley Austin -- in the office every day at 6 a.m., out by 3 p.m. -- in order to meet the responsibilities of parenthood. "I couldn't make any choice that would have a long-term impact on a child's happiness," she has said. "I brought them into the world. I feel responsible." Seitz and her husband, Roy McLeese, chief of the appellate division of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia, have two now-teenage children, Miranda and Roy.

Said Keisler: "She's really actually been a pioneer in demonstrating that you can have a hugely successful first-tier law practice while working part time."