Barbara Underwood’s career has been one of firsts: She was first in her law school class and the first woman to serve as U.S. solicitor general, and she is now the first woman to be New York’s attorney general.
Underwood, the state’s solicitor general, takes over Tuesday as acting New York attorney general replacing Eric Schneiderman.
Underwood, 73, brings to the office top legal credentials and years of experience as a prosecutor. She’ll stay in place until the state legislature selects a replacement for Schneiderman, and that person must prevail in November’s election to retain the post.
A Radcliffe College graduate who was first in her law school class at Georgetown University in 1969, Underwood served as a law clerk for David Bazelon, then chief judge of the federal appeals court in Washington, and went on to clerk for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, a liberal icon.
She taught for 10 years at Yale Law School. While there, she made the unusual decision to work as a trial and appellate attorney in New York state prosecutors’ offices. She eventually became chief of the appeals bureau and counsel to Elizabeth Holtzman, then the Brooklyn DA. She also served as deputy to former U.S. Attorney Zachary Carter, where she supervised 150 lawyers in Brooklyn and Long Island.
“Barbara Underwood is a brilliant lawyer who has devoted her professional life to serving the criminal justice system,” Carter said on Tuesday.
Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno in 1998 named Underwood as the principal deputy solicitor general, and she was acting solicitor general during the last six months of her tenure, which ran until June 2001.
Underwood was named New York solicitor general in 2007 — the state’s top appeals lawyer — a job she held until Tuesday.
“The work of this office is critically important,” she said in a statement. “Our office has never been stronger, and this extraordinarily talented, dedicated, and tireless team of public servants will ensure that our work continues without interruption.”
Underwood has argued 20 times for the federal and state governments before the U.S. Supreme Court.