Law School Graduate Tapped to Lead Homeland Security

Kirstjen Michele Nielsen’s background is in cybersecurity and she has extensive experience in homeland security.

Kirstjen Michele Nielsen, a 1999 graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, will be nominated as the next secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the White House said Wednesday.

Nielsen would be the second graduate of the Law School to hold the cabinet post, which was created in 2001 in response to the Sept. 11 attacks. The first was Janet Napolitano, now president of the University of California, who served from 2009 to 2013.

Nielsen is a cybersecurity expert who, pending confirmation, will leave her current position as a White House deputy chief of staff under John F. Kelly – the previous secretary of Homeland Security. She served as his second-in-command there as well, in the chief of staff role.

She would become the seventh person to lead the department. Elaine Duke has been the acting secretary since July 31.

In addition to her work with the Trump administration, Nielsen has served as a senior fellow at the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, located at George Washington University, and on the Global Risks Report Advisory Board of the World Economic Forum. She is the founder and former president of Sunesis Consulting.

Nielsen also holds a B.S. from the Georgetown School of Foreign Service.

Four other Law School alumni have been tapped for top posts in the administration, with three to serve in general counsel slots.

  • John Mitnick, a 1988 graduate, has been nominated to serve as general counsel of the Department of Homeland Security. Mitnick has served during the past several years as senior vice president, general counsel and secretary for the Heritage Foundation.
  • J. Paul Compton Jr., a 1989 alumnus, has been chosen to be general counsel of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He exits partnership at Bradley Arant Boult Cummings.
  • Peter B. Davidson, a 1990 alumnus, has been selected to be general counsel of the Department of Commerce. Davidson recently served as senior vice president for congressional relations at Verizon Communications, and prior to that, as general counsel to the U.S. trade representative. 
  • Emily Murphy, a 2001 graduate, has been nominated to run the General Services Administration. Currently senior adviser to acting GSA chief Tim Horne and a former GSA chief acquisitions officer, Murphy is an experienced Capitol Hill staffer.


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Eric Williamson

Associate Director of Communications and Senior Writer University of Virginia School of Law