Christopher Kang’s office in the White House complex had mostly bare walls during a recent interview, but the imprint of his work will be visible for decades. Kang, 35, is a senior counsel to President Barack Obama and the one running the selection process for new federal judges. He works with lawmakers and interest groups to develop lists of candidates, conducts interviews, reviews possible nominees’ records and, once they’re nominated, pushes to get them through the Senate.
He describes his job as finding people who will be even-handed on the bench. “For a lot of people, you’re going to be in a courtroom only once, and it is about making sure that their interaction with the justice system is a positive one — that even if they lose, they’ve had an opportunity to make their case and be heard,” Kang said. The son of immigrants from South Korea, he came to the job in August as a veteran of battles on Capitol Hill.
He started out after Duke Law School as a low-level staff member for Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and climbed the congressional ladder, serving as a lawyer for Durbin on the Judiciary Committee and as a member of his whip staff after Durbin became the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat. Beginning in January 2009, he was one of Obama’s lobbyists in the Senate.
But Kang said he sees government work less as a partisan war than as an expression of his interest in community service. His parents worked in the Gary, Ind., public schools, he coordinated student volunteerism as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago and he spent a law school summer at the Chicago Board of Education. “That has been a driving theme of what I’ve tried to do throughout my life,” he said. — David Ingram