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Jeh Johnson is an American lawyer and former government official who served as the Secretary of Homeland Security under President Barack Obama from 2013 to 2017. Johnson has a distinguished career in law, government, and national security and has made significant contributions to the public sector throughout his career.
Jeh Johnson: Early Life and Education
Jeh Johnson was born on September 11, 1957, in New York City. He grew up in Wappingers Falls, a small town in upstate New York. Johnson’s parents were both educators; his father was a school principal, and his mother was a teacher. Johnson attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science in 1979. He then went on to earn a Juris Doctor degree from Columbia Law School in 1982.
After graduating from law school, Johnson worked for a law firm in New York City before joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York in 1984. Johnson served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in that office from 1984 to 1989. During his time there, he prosecuted a wide range of cases, including drug trafficking, organized crime, and corruption. In 1989, Johnson left the U.S. Attorney’s Office to work for a private law firm.
In 1998, Johnson was appointed by President Bill Clinton to serve as General Counsel of the Department of the Air Force. He was the first African American to hold that position. Johnson served in that role until 2001 when he left to join the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.
In 2009, Johnson was asked by President Barack Obama to serve as the Department of Defense General Counsel. He was confirmed by the Senate in February 2009 and served in that role until December 2012. As General Counsel, Johnson was responsible for providing legal advice to the Secretary of Defense and other senior Pentagon officials. During his tenure, he played a key role in the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the policy that prevented openly gay men and women from serving in the military.
In December 2013, President Obama nominated Johnson to serve as the Secretary of Homeland Security. He was confirmed by the Senate on December 16, 2013, and was sworn in on December 23, 2013. As Secretary of Homeland Security, Johnson was responsible for overseeing a wide range of activities related to national security, including border security, cybersecurity, and counterterrorism.
During his tenure, Johnson faced a number of significant challenges, including the Ebola crisis, the rise of ISIS, and a surge of unaccompanied children and families crossing the border from Mexico. He also played a key role in implementing the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provided protection from deportation for certain undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.
In 2017, Johnson left his post as Secretary of Homeland Security and returned to private practice.
Personal Life and Legacy
Jeh Johnson is married to Susan DiMarco, an attorney and former federal prosecutor. They have two children. Johnson is known for his calm demeanour and his ability to work across the aisle, as evidenced by his confirmation by a Republican-controlled Senate.
Throughout his career, Johnson has been a strong advocate for civil rights and equal justice under the law. He has also been a strong proponent of diversity and inclusion in the legal profession and in government. In recognition of his contributions, Johnson has received numerous awards and honours, including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s Thurgood Marshall Award and the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service.
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