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December 08, 2023

Jeh Johnson, J. Michael Luttig discuss state of democracy in ABA Presidential Speaker Series program

CHICAGO, Dec. 8, 2023 – In a period of unparalleled challenges to our democracy, the American Bar Association’s Presidential Speaker Series steps up to shed light on these critical issues. Former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Charles Johnson and former federal judge J. Michael Luttig, co-chairs of the ABA Task Force for American Democracy, will lead an insightful discussion titled “Democracy in Peril” for the next installment of this pivotal ABA Presidential Speaker Series.

Johnson and Luttig, known for their profound insights and significant contributions to national security and legal thought, will be interviewed by renowned New York Times opinion columnist David French. The not-to-be missed program will stream at 3 p.m. EST on Thursday, Dec. 14. No advance registration is required. The program can be viewed here.

At the heart of their conversation is the current state of our democracy, the task force’s dedicated mission to strengthen democracy and the rule of law in America and the legal community’s crucial role in defending democratic principles. The goals and strategies the task force is undertaking to bolster voter confidence, uphold the integrity of elections, educate legal professionals and the public and enhance civic engagement and dialogue will also be explored.

Johnson's distinguished career in law and national security underlines his deep understanding of legal and security issues. During his tenure as secretary of Homeland Security from 2013 to 2017, he led the third largest cabinet department in the U.S. government. He was the legal architect of the U.S. military’s counterterrorism efforts under the Obama Administration in his role as general counsel of the Department of Defense from 2009 to 2012. Prior to this, Johnson served as general counsel of the Department of the Air Force and as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York. Johnson is now a partner at the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP and holds positions on several prestigious boards and councils.

Luttig’s illustrious career in legal counsel and constitutional law at the Department of Justice and in the White House make him a leading authority on matters of law and governance. He served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit from 1991 to 2006. Prior to his judicial appointment, he served in the U.S. Department of Justice as assistant attorney general and deputy assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel and as counselor to the attorney general. His earlier roles include assistant counsel to President Ronald Reagan and law clerk to then-Judge Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice Warren E. Burger. He currently serves as counselor and special advisor to the Coca-Cola Company and its board of directors.

French brings a wealth of experience from his diverse career in law and journalism to moderate the discussion. Recently joining The New York Times as an opinion columnist in 2023, French previously contributed significantly as a founder and senior editor at The Dispatch and writer at The Atlantic. His legal career spans extensive work in commercial and constitutional litigation and teaching at Cornell Law School. French has held a significant leadership role as the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.

The ABA Presidential Speaker Series, an initiative of ABA President Smith, is a collection of diverse virtual conversations with globally recognized figures, spotlighting trailblazers and thinkers shaping our collective future. Under the theme “Lifting Our Voices, Charting the Future,” these fireside chats promote dialogue, civility and exposure to diverse viewpoints, innovative ideas and career insights.

Previous episodes featured Ivo H. Daalder, former U.S. ambassador to NATO and current chief executive officer of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs (view here); civil rights icon Dolores Huerta (view here); Native American women “firsts” including Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (view here); experts on artificial intelligence from the ABA Task Force on the Law and Artificial Intelligence on how AI will affect the legal landscape (view here); and Martin Scorsese, Academy Award-winning director, producer and screenwriter and director of the new film, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” along with Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear, principal chief of the Osage Nation (view here).

Future speakers in the series will include:

  • A special Black History Month program “The Business of Democracy” featuring special advisors to the ABA Task Force for American Democracy, Kenneth Frazier, former CEO of Merck, and Kenneth Chenault, former CEO of American Express, in conversation with Paulette Brown, past ABA President (2015-2016) and the first women of color in this role. The program will be available on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024.

Additional programs will be announced. To introduce the series, this and other initial installments will be free to ABA members and the public. More information on the Presidential Speaker Series can be found at


The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law. View our privacy statement online. Follow the latest ABA news at and on X (formerly Twitter) @ABANews.