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Obama Names Indian Americans to Key Legal Posts

India West, News Report, Sunita Sohrabji Posted: Jan 23, 2009

Two high-profile Indian American attorneys were appointed this week to top posts in the new Obama-Biden administration.

Preeta BansalPreeta Bansal, former solicitor general for the state of New York and currently a partner at Skadden Arps, will serve as general counsel and senior policy advisor in the Obama-Biden administration's Office of Management and Budget.

President Barack Obama announced several key OMB appointments on the eve of his inauguration, saying the team would focus on cutting waste and serving the public effectively and efficiently.

Hours before his inauguration, Obama also appointed Georgetown University law professor Neal Katyal to the post of principal deputy solicitor general. Katyal is known as the attorney who defended Osama bin Laden's driver Salim Hamdan before the Supreme Court in 2006, a case which established rights for Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Shortly after terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, Hamdan was picked up in Afghanistan and sent to Guantanamo Bay. Former President Bush said that Hamdan and other Guantanamo detainees would be tried by military tribunal, rather than in federal court.

The Supreme Court sided with Katyal, 5-3, saying tribunals for military detainees violated constitutional separation of powers. Former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger termed the Hamdan case "the most important decision on presidential power ever."

In an e-mail, Katyal told India-West he could not comment on the appointment, in keeping with a directive from the Department of Justice.

Neal KatyalKatyal, named Lawyer of the Year in 2006 by LawyersUSA magazine, previously served as National Security Adviser in the U.S. Justice Department and was commissioned by former President Clinton to write a report on the need for more pro-bono legal work. He also served as former Vice President Al Gore's co-counsel in the post-2000 election controversy.

The Yale Law school graduate clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer as well as Judge Guido Calabresi of the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Earlier in the month, Obama announced Elena Kagan's appointment to the post of solicitor general. Interestingly, Katyal was critical of a 2001 scholarly article written by Kagan for the Harvard Law Review, which defended the Clinton administration's assertion of the right to direct federal regulatory agencies without congressional or court involvement.

Bansal is a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom in New York, where she heads the appellate litigation and complex legal issues practice. The Harvard Law School graduate also serves as a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Bansal served as the chair of the commission from 2004-2005 and has led U.S. diplomatic missions to Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Uzbekistan, China, Russia, Turkey, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to advance U.S. foreign policy concerns post-Sept. 11, and she has advised on the drafting of the Iraqi and Afghan constitutions.

The New York Law Journal has praised Bansal as "one of the most gifted lawyers of her generation, who combines a brilliant analytical mind with solid, mature judgment." She received the "Woman of Power and Influence" award of the National Organization for Women in 2006, and was named one of the 50 Most Influential Minority Lawyers in America by the National Law Journal in 2008. Bansal clerked for Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, and previously served in the White House during the Clinton administration.

Bansal had not returned an e-mail for comment at press time.

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