Office of Legal Counsel: Who Is Karl Thompson?

Sunday, May 04, 2014

On March 24, 2014, President Barack Obama appointed Karl Remón Thompson as principal deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department. That office issues opinions on whether actions taken by the president and other members of the Executive Branch are legal. This gives those who carry out the actions legal cover. During the George W. Bush administration, that office issued memos declaring that methods interrogation methods commonly considered torture, including waterboarding, were legal.


Thompson attended Harvard University, graduating in 1991. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in political theory from Cambridge in 1998, writing his thesis on “The Logic of Political Prudence.” Thompson then went to law school at the University of Chicago, graduating in 2000. While there, he was articles editor of the university’s law review.


After graduation, Thompson became a law clerk, first for David S. Tatel, a judge on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. He then moved to the Supreme Court, clerking for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg during the 2002-2003 term.


Thompson then accepted a position at the law firm of O’Melveny & Myers. One of his more significant cases was the successful representation of the drug maker Merck & Co. in a lawsuit dealing with its painkiller drug Vioxx, which was later pulled from the market after evidence showed that it increased the risk of heart problems for patients.. Another case Thompson handled was destined to spur criticism of him as he entered government service. He assisted a Navy lawyer in the defense of Omar Khadr, a terror suspect held at Guantánamo.  Right-wing publications criticized Thompson and other attorneys who’d helped in the defense of Guantánamo prisoners. However, others from all parts of the political spectrum defended Thompson and his colleagues.


In 2009, Thompson left private practice to join the Office of Legal Counsel. His first post was as counsel to the assistant attorney general. Later, he was named a deputy assistant attorney general. Beginning in February 2013, Thompson became a counselor in the office of Attorney General Eric Holder, where he handled issues related to the Civil Division, the Office of the Solicitor General, and the Office of Legal Counsel.


In the absence of an Assistant Attorney General, Thompson will lead the Office of Legal Counsel. Obama has not nominated anyone to fill that post on a permanent basis, as it’s thought that it would be difficult for anyone to be confirmed by the Senate for that post. 


Thompson is the co-editor of the 2009 book It Is a Constitution We Are Expounding, writings on interpreting the U.S. Constitution.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Official Biography


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