January 9, 2009

Sunstein among latest Obama appointees with U of C roots

Three more U of C legal minds are headed to Washington thanks to appointments made by President-elect Barack Obama this week. The list includes former Law School professors Cass Sunstein and Elena Kagan, and Susan Sher, the vice president for legal and government affairs at the U of C medical center.

Sunstein will head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, overseeing government regulation, an area Obama has promised to reform, especially in housing and finance. He taught at the University of Chicago from 1981 to 2008 and left for Harvard last year. Last year he co-wrote Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness with Chicago Booth professor Richard Thaler, which describes how government and the private sector can provide incentives for people to make better individual choices.

Elena Kagan, a University of Chicago Law School professor from 1991 to 1995, was nominated for solicitor general, the Obama administration’s representative before the Supreme Court. She has taught administrative and constitutional law at Harvard Law School since 1999, and in 2003 she became the school’s first female dean. She worked in the Clinton White House from 1995 to 1999 as a legal and domestic policy advisor.

Kagan was “a very valuable member of our faculty at Chicago from her first days here, and she has been extraordinarily successful as a dean at Harvard,” said David Strauss, a professor at the U of C Law School. “She is very smart, very sensible, very tough-minded, good with people, and, maybe most important, she knows what she doesn’t know, and she’s willing to roll up her sleeves and learn.”

Strauss said Kagan retained characteristics unique to the U of C even when she went to Harvard.

“One of the reasons she was such a great success at Harvard is that she brought aspects of the Chicago DNA with her, and that was what Harvard, at the time, really needed,” he said.

Susan Sher, vice president for legal and governmental affairs at the U of C’s medical center and former chair of the Lab Schools, was appointed as a legal advisor to first lady Michelle Obama. Sher worked as Corporation Counsel for the City of Chicago, the city’s chief lawyer, from 1993 to 1997. As a legal advisor, she will give counsel to Michelle Obama and work on legal issues related to health care policy.