Law Graduates Get Political


One of Vanderbilt’s own jumped into the presidential candidate ring in September, ending months of speculation. Even before he declared his candidacy, Fred Thompson, JD’67, polled third nationally among GOP presidential contenders. The preferred candidate among many conservatives, Thompson has drawn comparisons to Ronald Reagan for his easy manner and his acting background.

Thompson was named an assistant U.S. attorney only two years after graduating from law school and at age 30 was appointed minority counsel of the Senate Watergate Committee. He next served as special counsel to both the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

In his first campaign for office in 1994, Thompson was elected U.S. senator from Tennessee, filling the unexpired term of Al Gore, who attended graduate school and law school at Vanderbilt in the 1970s. Thompson was returned to the Senate for a full term in 1996. In addition to his success in law and politics, he is a wellknown character actor who has appeared in more than 20 films and nearly 30 television programs, most notably as District Attorney Arthur Branch on Law & Order.

Vanderbilt political scientist John Geer says Fred Thompson will be a formidable presidential contender. “Thompson has never been so ambitious that he is willing to do anything to be president, which could certainly be a plus in the campaign,” Geer says. “Of course, one of his greatest strengths is his rapport with the camera.”

Geer, author of In Defense of Negativity: Attack Ads in Presidential Campaigns, says “Thompson has a folksy way and ability to connect with the voters, including the GOP base. He will also attract some Democrats and independents.”

Thompson is not the only Vanderbilt Law School graduate making headlines recently. In September,Nashville voters elected Karl Dean, JD’81, to succeed Bill Purcell, JD’79, as the city’s mayor.

Dean served as Metropolitan Nashville’s law director before entering the mayoral campaign. He was elected Metro Nashville public defender three times during the 1990s before joining Purcell’s staff as the city’s law director in 1999.He is also an adjunct professor at Vanderbilt Law School,where he teaches trial advocacy. Dean’s wife,Anne Davis, JD’81, teaches legal writing at Vanderbilt.

Purcell, who was director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Public Policy Studies’ Child and Family Policy Center before serving two terms as Nashville mayor, is now spending four months teaching as a resident fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics.

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