News & Politics

Across the Aisle—and the Courtroom

It’s one surprise after another with Theodore Olson.

First, the conservative superlawyer became an unlikely gay-rights advocate when he agreed to represent couples challenging California’s same-sex marriage ban. Now the man who won George W. Bush the presidency is a Barack Obama appointee. 

Olson was one of ten individuals selected by Obama to serve on the newly reinstated Administrative Conference of the United States. The body assesses how government agencies run and makes recommendations for improving administrative and regulatory procedures. As Olson puts it, “It’s very much a good government agency.”

In 1995, Congress pulled its funding and the conference died. It was reborn earlier this year, and Obama appointed law professor Paul Verkuil as its chairman. The ten additional appointments, announced by the White House Thursday, fill out the conference.

The body is intended to be nonpartisan, and while Olson isn’t its only conservative, he’s definitely its highest-profile member from the right.

Olson says he was first contacted by “a representative of the administration”—he won’t specify who—several months ago to discuss the appointment. “I was told that the White House had deliberated about the persons that should be on the council and that they had decided—the President had decided—to appoint me as one of the members if I was interested,” says Olson. “I said that I’d be delighted.”

Though he isn’t sure precisely how much of a time commitment the role will require, Olson doesn’t expect it to interfere with his work as cochair of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher’s appellate practice.

And speaking of his private practice, Olson is still waiting for the decision to come out in the California Prop 8 case. He delivered the closing argument against the gay-marriage ban last month. Last Thursday night, Olson says he got word that the judge was going to announce the ruling by 9 PM EST. So while much of the country was waiting to hear LeBron’s decision, Olson was waiting for a much more important one. But Olson is still waiting. Turns out it was a false alarm.

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Senior Editor

Marisa M. Kashino joined Washingtonian in 2009 and was a senior editor until 2022.