Kathryn Ruemmler.
Kathryn Ruemmler. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/NLJ.)

Former White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler is returning to Latham & Watkins, where she will help companies navigate Washington’s regulatory and enforcement landscape.

“There’s really no place like the White House to see and have a rich understanding of how policy gets made,” Ruemmler, who served as President Barack Obama’s top lawyer for the past three years, said in an interview Tuesday.

At the White House, Ruemmler provided legal advice on foreign and domestic policy, national security matters and executive branch dealings with Congress on investigations and judicial nominations.

Senate Republicans, Ruemmler said in the interview, miscalculated amid the showdown last fall over Obama’s three nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Ruemmler said she crafted the White House strategy to simultaneously announce three picks for the D.C. Circuit. She said she ordered the nominees—putting Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld’s Patricia Millett first—to make Republicans block her without raising a substantive objection. Millett’s credentials to serve on the appeals court were never questioned.

“I believed that if the Republicans did not allow Patricia Millett to get an up or down vote, the Democrats would decide they really didn’t have an option because the Republicans were going to ensure that the president had no additional judges on that court,” Ruemmler said.

The alternative scenario, Ruemmler said, was this: Republicans would let Millett get confirmed and then try to block the other two nominees on the argument that the court’s workload did not justify filling the last two seats on the 11-judge court.

“I think had they let her go through, one never knows for sure, but I think it would have been more challenging for [Majority Leader Harry Reid] to get the votes he needed to deploy the nuclear option,” Ruemmler said.

The announcement of Ruemmler’s move to Latham, where she formerly was a partner, comes days after she left the White House. Ruemmler spent two years as a partner at the firm before joining the Obama administration in 2009. She has a long-standing relationship with the firm.

Ruemmler will be a partner in the firm’s litigation department and a member of the white-collar defense and investigations practice group. She will start in July in the firm’s Washington office, but she plans to expand her practice to New York.

“I love working on what I would describe as multidimensional problems where a client has a big challenge,” Ruemmler said, mentioning congressional investigations, reputational issues and government enforcement.

“Virtually every problem that I worked on as the White House counsel was a problem or a challenge of that nature,” she said. “There are no challenges that are sort of just a pure legal question, so I’m really looking forward to looking at those matters in private practice.”

Ruemmler said she talked to a few “really outstanding firms, and they made the decision difficult for me.” She did not name the firms.

Latham’s leaders said clients will benefit from the depth of Ruemmler’s legal experience and from her skills in the policy, regulatory and enforcement areas. “Kathy is a fantastic lawyer who has great instinct and judgment,” said Alice Fisher, managing partner of Latham’s Washington office. “She is battle-tested at the highest levels.”

Ruemmler first joined the administration in 2009 as principal associate deputy attorney general at the U.S. Department of Justice. She later joined the White House as a deputy counsel. Obama elevated her to White House counsel in June 2011. She twice extended her service in the White House at Obama’s request.

Kirkland & Ellis partner W. Neil Eggleston succeeds Ruemmler as White House counsel. Ruemmler described Eggleston as a “low-ego, high-confidence” lawyer.

“He has a very calm temperament, he’s obviously a brilliant lawyer, but extremely good judgment,” she said.

Contact Todd Ruger at truger@alm.com.