President Barack Obama today tapped Catherine E. Lhamon, who spent a decade working for the American Civil Liberties Union in California, as the assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education.
Obama also tapped James Cole Jr., the deputy general counsel at the U.S. Transportation Department, to be Education Secretary Arne Duncan's chief lawyer. Before joining the Transportation Department in 2011, he was a partner in a New York City law firm. He has Chicago roots—just as Obama and Duncan do—as he earned his law degree from the University of Chicago.
Both have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
As general counsel, Cole will be more of a behind-the-scenes player. But Lhamon's position can be a high-profile one. Her predecessor, Russlynn Ali, was particularly aggressive at enforcing protections against bullying, harassment, and equal access to education services and programs for English learners. Lhamon is currently the director of impact litigation at Public Counsel, a position she has held since October 2009. Before that, she held various titles with the ACLU in California.