When Tess Bridgeman ’10 began her job as an attorney advisor in the US Department of State’s Office of the Legal Adviser, she was glad that she had kept her old notes from NYU Law courses such as War, the President, and the Constitution, taught by Hiller Family Foundation Professor of Law David Golove.
“When I began working as an attorney for the special envoy for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility, I ended up drawing on my notes from David Golove’s course —whether I had a question on habeas litigation, detainee treatment, or military commissions, or how international and domestic law intersect—I looked back at what I had learned in that course on a daily basis.” She adds: “I could not have been better prepared by NYU [Law].”
After spending almost a decade as a government lawyer, including moving from the State Department to be special assistant to the President, deputy legal adviser to the National Security Council, and associate White House counsel under the Obama administration, Bridgeman is now the co-editor in chief of Just Security, an online forum that provides expert policy analysis and breaking security news. Founded by Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Professor of Law Ryan Goodman, Just Security is housed within NYU Law’s Reiss Center on Law and Security (RCLS), where Bridgeman also serves as senior fellow and visiting scholar.
“I think one of the most exciting things about government lawyering…is that policymakers come to you for creative thinking on solutions, and how to get from point A to point B using the law,” says Bridgeman. “There are all kinds of ways that researchers and teachers and lawyers are looked to as problem solvers and my NYU training has been helpful in each of these capacities.”
As a student at NYU Law, Bridgeman was a Root-Tilden-Kern Scholar and an Institute for International Law and Justice Scholar, and served as a notes editor for the NYU Law Review. She also concurrently completed a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar, earning both a JD and doctorate of philosophy in 2010.
After law school, Bridgeman clerked for Judge Thomas Ambro on the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit before taking a position as an attorney advisor in the Office of Political-Military Affairs, a sub office of the US State Department’s Office of the Legal Advisor. Bridgeman says that her first portfolio focused on the Obama administration’s efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center. Bridgeman negotiated detainee transfers to foreign countries and represented the US in front of international organizations that had Guantanamo-related matters pending, such as at the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, among other responsibilities, she says.
In 2013, Bridgeman moved to the front office of the Office of Legal Adviser, serving as a special assistant to the acting legal advisor, Mary McLeod ’77. “It was clear from the very beginning that Tess was really exceptional,” says McLeod, who pointed to the key role Bridgeman played in framing legal arguments that convinced the White House counsel’s office and the National Security Council (NSC) to release an ailing detainee from Guantanamo.
“As a legal mind, Tess is absolutely brilliant, and she’s able to explain things well and clearly both orally and in writing, which is a real talent.” says McLeod. “But the thing about her is that she is just a delightful person and presence…. Even when we are working on exceptionally hard things, which we were all of the time in that era…everyone is drawn to her presence.”
In 2014, Bridgeman took a position as a deputy legal adviser in the NSC, and in 2016, she began her work as a special assistant in the Obama administration. While much of her work in the NSC was classified, she says one of the things she’s most proud of is the work she did on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal. The deal reduced Iran’s stockpile, minimized its production of nuclear materials, and subjected its nuclear program to strict international monitoring in exchange for relief from nuclear-related sanctions. Bridgeman served as the White House’s lawyer on the JCPOA during its last year of negotiation and the first full year of its implementation.
After Donald Trump took office as president in 2017, Bridgeman, as is traditional for political appointees, resigned her post. She began teaching at Stanford in 2017, conducting research at RCLS in 2018, and in 2019, Bridgeman joined Just Security as a senior editor, becoming co-editor in chief in June 2020.
“Not only do I have the best colleagues in the world in Ryan Goodman, my co-editor in chief, and the other staff and editors at Just Security… but we have the opportunity to work with expert authors across a huge range of national security, human rights, foreign policy, and other international law and policy issues to help inform the public and shape the debate,” she says.
Bridgeman says that as a Law School alumna, she is proud of the breadth of careers and legal questions she and her classmates have pursued since graduating. “Working with NYU Law’s RCLS students now,” she says, “I can see that that's a tradition that continues.”
Posted April 27, 2021