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House General Counsel Douglas N. Letter Wins 2020 Beatrice Rosenberg Award

By Jeremy Conrad

March 30, 2020

The D.C. Bar has selected Douglas N. Letter, general counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives and former director of Department of Justice’s Civil Division Appellate Staff, as the 2020 recipient of its Beatrice Rosenberg Award for Excellence in Government Service. The Bar annually bestows the award to a Bar member, nominated by their peers, in acknowledgement of career accomplishments that exemplify the highest order of public service. 

Douglas N. Letter, 2020 Beatrice Rosenberg Award for Excellence in Government Service. “I’m deeply honored to receive the Rosenberg Award because I knew well many of the prior recipients, and they are people I admire immensely,” says Letter. “My inclusion within that group is amazingly satisfying, both professionally and personally.”  

During his 40-year career with the Justice Department, Letter argued more than 200 cases in courts of appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, establishing himself as one of the premier appellate litigators in the country. His arguments have been responsible for setting precedent in cases concerning fundamental legal questions relating to the constitutional separation of powers, national security, foreign affairs, constitutional takings, and the First Amendment, among other issues. 

Letter led the Civil Division’s appellate staff for eight years, defending the policies of both Republican and Democratic administrations. Previously he served details as an associate counsel to President Clinton, as deputy associate attorney general under Attorney General Janet Reno, and as senior counselor to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.  

Upon retirement from his position with the Justice Department, Letter was handpicked by Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the position of general counsel of the House of Representatives. His service with the House comes during a period of intense litigation, including assisting in the direction of House activities relating to the impeachment of President Trump. 

Letter’s contributions to the legal community have included serving two terms on the D.C. Bar Board of Governors and as a beloved mentor and teacher. At the request of the D.C. Circuit and the D.C. Bar, Letter has for several decades conducted continuing legal education presentations on effective appellate advocacy. For 15 years he served as an adjunct faculty member at George Washington University Law School and as a visiting professor at Georgetown University Law Center. He delivered lectures at law schools in several other universities, including Yale, Harvard, the University of Michigan, the University of California–Berkeley, Fordham University, and American University, as well as the United States Naval Academy.  

Letter credits his dedication to government service to family tradition. His father and uncle were both career public servants and he was raised to view the conduct of the public’s business as the highest calling. “Government service is important to me because everything you do is working for the benefit of the people of the United States. It’s hard to think of a more noble pursuit,” Letter says. 

Reflecting on his many years of practice, he says, “Frankly, there is no greater honor than to stand up in court and begin your statement by saying, this is Douglas Letter on behalf of the United States.” 

The Rosenberg Award was established in honor of Beatrice “Bea” Rosenberg, who dedicated 35 years of her career to government service and performed with distinction at the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She also served on the Board on Professional Responsibility.