WASHINGTON — If there was a certain path to becoming President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s top lawyer in the West Wing, it was unlikely to have started with an apprenticeship to one of the most conservative jurists in the country.
But Dana Remus, a Yale-educated lawyer who clerked for Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. — a rock-solid member of the Supreme Court’s conservative wing — has been named the White House counsel in Mr. Biden’s administration, where she will help guide the new president through politically charged legal fights with Republican lawmakers.
An early member of Mr. Biden’s third bid for the presidency, Ms. Remus served as the campaign’s top lawyer and before that was a key legal adviser to President Barack Obama. She was the White House ethics lawyer for Mr. Obama and has represented the Obama Foundation since he left office in 2017.
Now, Ms. Remus will lead the White House Counsel’s Office for Mr. Biden as he seeks to unwind President Trump’s legislative and regulatory legacy and pushes forward with an agenda of his own.
People close to Ms. Remus said she will be a key part of that effort, in part because she understands the limitations — as well as the critical importance — of the law. Unlike some lawyers, they said, Ms. Remus understands that the law is just one part of a broader mix that includes politics, policy and communications.
“President Obama finished his eight years in office without any scandal, and that’s largely a credit to Dana,” said Eric Schultz, who has served as a spokesman for Mr. Obama since 2011. “It’s why he asked her to help manage his post-presidency transition, and it’s why it’s no surprise Joe Biden would ask her to help restore ethics and integrity to the White House.”
Ms. Remus was brought into Mr. Biden’s orbit by Bob Bauer, a veteran Democratic lawyer who served as chief counsel for Mr. Obama and has been a legal fixture for Democratic presidents and candidates for decades.
In 2018, she married Brett Holmgren, who served as a national security aide in the Obama White House. Guests at the wedding in Washington were surprised when the officiant turned out to be none other than the former president himself.
Her closeness to Mr. Obama, and now Mr. Biden, has made Ms. Remus a rising star in the Democratic legal world. But she has remained willing to engage with conservatives as well.
In 2013, Ms. Remus defended Justice Alito against a column that accused the jurist of visibly mocking his colleague Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg during a court session.
The column, by Dana Milbank of The Washington Post, said that Justice Alito, “seated immediately to Ginsburg’s left, shook his head from side to side in disagreement, rolled his eyes and looked at the ceiling” while Justice Ginsburg was talking. In a letter to the editor, Ms. Remus wrote that Justice Alito did not have “some deep and abiding disrespect for women.”
“Those of us who have been fortunate to work closely with Justice Alito know that he is a good man who serves every day with humility, dedication and incredible intelligence and insight,” she wrote.
In the summer of 2019, Ms. Remus taught a class at Duke Law School with Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, one of the more conservative voices in the Senate. The class, for the school’s D.C. Summer Institute on Law and Policy, was aimed at undergraduates or working professionals who were considering attending law school. Ms. Remus was already the chief counsel for Mr. Biden’s campaign.
Next year, when Mr. Biden takes office, Mr. Lee and other Republican senators will be on the other side of legal and political fights. It will be up to Ms. Remus to help guide the new president through them.