General Counsels of the House
The General Counsel is a nonpartisan official whose office provides legal advice and assistance to Members, committees, officers, and employees of the House. The House formally created the office in the early 1990s as part of a larger series of institutional reforms, but its roots extend back years earlier.
The General Counsel’s work has covered areas such as providing advice and litigation support for attorney-client and “Speech and Debate” privileges, and it has assisted with congressional investigations in which privilege is invoked. The office also advises the House on requests from executive branch agencies, as well as on privacy, confidentiality, and tax-exemption matters. In both trial and appellate courts, the office represents the House in proceedings in which the House is a party. Federal statute grants attorneys in the General Counsel’s Office certain exemptions from the usual requirements to practice in state and federal courts and, with the exception of the U.S. Supreme Court, they may appear before any court in the country. The office also represents the House in an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) role in matters where the House has an institutional interest.
For many years aspects of this work were performed by a lawyer in the Office of the Clerk of the House. In 1979, Speaker Tip O’Neill appointed Stanley M. Brand, then the Counsel to the Clerk, as General Counsel. Brand had instructions to represent the House’s institutional interests in litigation. Over the next decade, the responsibilities of the General Counsel expanded and the Office of the General Counsel, with additional legal staff, was formally established during the 102nd Congress (1991–1993) as part of H. Res. 423, the House Administration Reform Resolution of 1991. The position of General Counsel was later included in the House Rules at the opening of the 103rd Congress (1993–1995).
Under current practice, the Speaker of the House appoints the General Counsel with the input of the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group that includes House leaders from both parties. The position is defined in House Rule II, Section 8 (PDF).
|General Counsels of the U.S. House||Term of Service|
|Stanley M. Brand||1976–1983|
|Steven R. Ross||1983–1993|
|Charles Tiefer||1993–1994 (acting)|
|Thomas J. Spulak||1994–1995|
|Geraldine R. Gennet||1996–2007|
|Irvin B. Nathan||2007–2011|
|Kerry W. Kircher||2011–2016|
|Thomas G. Hungar||2016–2019|
|Douglas N. Letter||2019-present|
Sources: Office of the General Counsel, “About: Prior General Counsels,” https://ogc.house.gov/about (accessed 22 March 2019); Matthew E. Glassman, “House Office of General Counsel,” 21 May 2014, Congressional Research Service Report, RS22890, Washington, DC; Tara Leigh Grove and Neal Devins, “Congress’s (Limited) Power to Represent Itself,” Faculty Publications, College of William and Mary Law School: 571–532; online at https://scholarship.law.wm.edu/facpubs/1676; Charles Tiefer, “The Senate and House Counsel Offices: Dilemmas of Representing in Court the Institutional Congressional Client,” Law and Contemporary Problems (1998): 47–63.