On Becoming the White House Law Blogger (Updated x3)
Since word is already dribbling out among my friends, I thought I should let you know here: I’m closing down this blog in the next few weeks to start up a new one at the White House as their official law blogger. I’ll have the opportunity to both expand the scope of my writing and serve my country at the same time. As blogging gigs go, it doesn’t get any better than that.
Here’s the back story, since most people assumed the job would go to one of the professors that were in the running instead of a practicing attorney. I first came to the attention of President Obama and Democratic Party officials last year with my posts regarding Sonia Sotomayor. I had plucked from her official questionnaire to the Senate the information about her having a private practice as a solo practitioner, and noted that the name Sotomayor & Associates was misleading as to the size of the firm for a solo. The Washington Times picked it up in an editorial and eventually the New York Times ran with it (without attribution to me, I might add) and the White House was forced to put out a defense of her conduct. All of this lead a Senate staffer to call me regarding the issue.
While people inside the administration told me they weren’t too keen on the story I was telling, they at least appreciated the fact that I was writing fairly on the subject — given that I made sure to note that while this was an ethical transgression it was nonetheless minor. So some saw me back then as an honest broker who, perhaps, might be able to reach people that weren’t necessarily on the same page politically as this administration.
And White House readers returned again (as did some from the Senate, the House and the Supreme Court) for the letter from Justice Scalia to my brother on the issue of secession. In particular, they liked my analysis on how secession could (in theory) come before the court, not because anyone thought it would actually happen, but because this little personal injury blogger from New York had no problem coming up with a theory where Justice Scalia fell short.
You can see a track of these high profile visits to my blog to the left.
All of this came to the attention of new White Counsel Bob Bauer — recently profiled in the Washington Post — who told me when we spoke that he hoped to see the new law WH law blog have greater involvement in getting the message out to people regarding pending legislation and its relationship to SCOTUS opinions of the past. In particular, this had to do with simplifying the message for complex issues, which was the very essence of this blog when I started.
There was, and I hope I’m not talking out of school on this, some disappointment in the way the health care legislation was handled at the top level regarding the failure to make sufficient preemptive strikes on constitutional challenges that arose from various politicians disgruntled at having lost.
Bauer also told me that during the vetting his office did, they particularly liked my analysis of the Supreme Court’s decision in Philip Morris v. Williams as well my thoughts in the judicial recusal issues raised in CBC Distribution. For reasons that still escape me, he actually liked what he saw and asked if I would consider coming aboard.
But he also noted that my posts regarding the torture-endorsing John Yoo , or the mockery of democracy that took place with Bush v. Gore, might rankle a few people from the other side of the aisle, and that this job might not be for the squeamish. In other words, while they liked my writing style, they knew that my presence in the administration might raise an issue or two and that the fit, while good, wasn’t perfect.
My appointment, which I hope will become final in the next few days, will clearly toss me into the political fray as I venture a bit more into political issues, an unavoidable circumstance given the nature of the position. Whether I am ready for prime time or not after 3+ years of blogging remains to be seen, and I fervently hope that I don’t step on the wrong toes.
With the job comes two perks. First was the 30 second meeting with Obama during the interview process and the photo that you see here that I’ll stick on my wall. (And yes, Mrs. NYPILB has already given me grief about sitting with my legs like that.)
But there is actually one thing more important, that I know every blogger would love: I get an intern that will proof-read my stuff before it goes live. Regular blog readers know that, because blogging is usually a sideline instead of a career, rushed content often results in errors (though I’m happy to see the President has the same problem). My intern will also help me sift through the avalanche of email the position will no doubt generate.
To the political bloggers that have already started to send me stories: Please stop. My gig hasn’t started yet and I’m already being swamped. That which is relevant today may have no relevance in two-three weeks time, and I’m also going to have to port much of this stuff to a new account that will be subject to federal record-keeping rules. Logistics can be a pain and I don’t have help yet, so please bear with me.
As to the name of the new blog, the leading candidate is White House Law Blog, which is very descriptive but I think a bit of a yawner. It’s also too similar to the existing White House Blog. Mine will have a different angle as I’ll be confining myself to legal issues.
In addition, I’ve already tried using a descriptive name with this blog — a subject about which I have very mixed feelings — and am hoping for something a bit more creative. (I had dumped a descriptive name for Twitter by using @Turkewitz.) If you have thoughts on a good name for the new blog, you can leave them in the comments and I’ll bat them around with the new bosses.
Update: Apparently my appointment has set off a big problem inside the office of the WH Press Secretary since I won’t answer directly to him: Turkewitz: Honest Broker or Loose Cannon?
And people inside the beltway are already questioning the wisdom of a hiring a medical malpractice attorney as law blogger, calling it “an incredibly stupid idea”: Medical Malpractice Attorney Named White House “Law Blogger”
Update #2: I know some are concerned because the news happens to fall on the first of April. But Orin Kerr @ Volokh has also first-hand confirmed the appointment: How Did the White House Pick Its Law Blogger?