President Barack Obama has selected Jeh C. Johnson, who supervised 10,000 civilian and military lawyers at the Department of Defense, as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

He also recently named Judge Patricia E. Campbell-Smith of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to serve as the chief judge. She is the first African American to be designated.

If confirmed, Johnson, who would leave private practice to serve, would come to the position with substantial experience, officials said. He would be the fourth DHS secretary and the first Black person to hold the post.

Johnson, a graduate of Morehouse and Columbia Law School, served as the Department of Defense’s top lawyer. He advised Obama and two secretaries of defense and helped to develop several national security policies during Obama’s first term in office.

He is credited with leading the review and authorization of the report that led to the repeal in 2010 of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy toward homosexuals in the military.

At a brief news conference in the White House Rose Garden on Oct. 18, Obama urged the Senate to move quickly to confirm Johnson, who would replace Janet Napolitano, who left the post in July to head the University of California system.

“From the moment I took office, Jeh was an absolutely critical member of my national security team, and he demonstrated again and again the qualities that will make him a strong secretary of homeland security,” Obama said. “Jeh has a deep understanding of the threats and challenges facing the United States. As the Pentagon’s top lawyer, he helped design and implement many of the polities that have kept our country safe, including our success in dismantling the core of al Queda and the Fatah.”

The President also praised Campbell-Smith, who served as special master with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims from 2005 to 2011 and chief special master from 2011 until Sept. 19, 2012, when he appointed her judge. On Oct. 21, Obama tapped her to serve as chief judge. A graduate of Duke University and Tulane Law School, Campbell-Smith practiced environmental regulatory law, patent

infringement litigation and toxic tort litigation in private practice, according to a White House statement.

“She has a long and distinguished record of service, and I am confident she will serve with distinction,” he said.

Johnson hails from a family of devoted public servants. His grandfather, Dr. Charles S. Johnson was a famed sociologist and Harlem Renaissance figure who became the first Black president of historic Fisk University. His uncle. Lt. Robert B. Johnson, was a member of the illustrious Tuskegee Airmen.

“Thank you for the tremendous honor of this nomination and the trust you have placed in me to carry out this large and important responsibility as secretary of homeland security,” Johnson said. “I was not looking for his opportunity. I had left government at the end of last year and was settling back into private life and private law practice. But when I received the call, I could not refuse it.”

A source familiar with the nomination said Obama’s selection of Johnson indicates a shift away from immigration as the focus of DHS to national security as a priority.

If Johnson is confirmed, four of the major players in national security would be African Americans—Obama, U.S. Attorney Gen. Eric H. Holder, U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice and Johnson.

According to a senior Obama administration official, Johnson “was a key decision maker on various legal questions regarding different points of overlap between the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security.”

Johnson, who hails from New York, said he was in Manhattan on 9/11, his birthday. After the attack, he said, he “wandered the streets of New York…and wondered and asked , ‘What can I do?’ Since then, I’ve tried to devote myself to answering that question. I love this country. I care about the safety of our people. I believe in public service. And I remain loyal to you, Mr. President.”


Avis Thomas-Lester

AFRO Executive Editor