President Obama has appointed Keith M. Harper to serve on the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships.
A highly acclaimed attorney who has worked on litigation and Native American issues throughout his career representing tribes and individual Indians, Harper is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and partner and Chair of the Native American Practice Group at the law firm of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP. His appointment to the White House Fellowship Commission was announced in a White House press release November 23.
The White House Fellows program was founded in 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson, who announced its creation with the declaration that “a genuinely free society cannot be a spectator society,” according to a history of the program on the White House website. The purpose of the White House Fellows program is to provide gifted and highly motivated young women and men with first-hand experience in the process of governing the nation and a sense of personal involvement in the leadership of society, the site says. The fellows are selected through a nonpartisan application process and spend a year working as a full time paid fellow to senior White House staff, Cabinet secretaries and other top-ranking government officials. They also participate in an education program consisting of roundtable discussions with leaders from the private and public sectors, and trips to study U.S. policy in action both domestically and internationally.
Harper will be one of the 26 members of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships who are responsible for recommending the men and women for selection as White House Fellows.
Harper’s appointment is the latest in a line of work he has done for the Obama administration. He served as a Principal Advisor and Chair of the Native American Domestic Policy Committee during President Obama’s campaign and later as a member of Obama’s transition team. Before joining Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, Harper was a litigator at the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) in the Washington, D.C. office. During that time he also taught Federal Indian Law as adjunct professor at Catholic University Columbus School of Law and at American University Washington College of Law. In 2001, Harper was appointed Appellate Justice on the highest court of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, where he served until October 2007. He also served on the Supreme Court of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
With not a single American Indian judge serving in the federal court system, whenever a vacancy opens up on federal court or even the U.S. Supreme Court, Harper has been proposed by Indian country leaders as a potential candidate for the position. In 2010 when Harper’s name came up as a potential candidate for a position on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, NARF founder and director John Echohawk said Harper would be a “stellar pick.”
“During my 40 years in the practice of American Indian law, we Native attorneys have worked toward the day that one of us would break through the glass ceiling and be named as an appellate judge,” Echohawk told Voting Osage. “At 64, I and most other Native lawyers of my generation are not seeking judicial appointments, because those should go to younger people who can serve on the bench for a long time. Harper is 43 and could have an extended future as an appellate judge. I know Harper and his work very well and can attest to his upstanding character and his diligent work ethic. He has a first-rate mind, a compassionate heart and an even temperament. He enjoys the respect of his peers and a well-deserved reputation as a thorough litigator and a fair judge.” Harper was not selected for the judgeship.
The National Law Journal selected Harper as one of 50 “Most Influential Minority Lawyers in America” in 2008. He is listed in the 2009, 2010, and 2011 editions of Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers for Business. He was recognized in The Best Lawyers in America for Native American Law in 2012 and the four years immediately preceding. He is listed as a 2010 Washington D.C. “Super Lawyer” in Native American Law by SuperLawyers magazine. Diversity & The Bar magazine selected him as one of 14 minority “Rainmakers.” In 2001, he was selected as a Leadership Conference on Civil Rights delegate to the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa.