Briefing Room


New professor brings expertise in legislation, national security

June 3, 2013 | Faculty

As a boy listening to the radio in snowy Fargo, N.D., Dakota Rudesill keenly remembers the feeling of dread when he heard in 1983 that the Soviet Union had walked out of nuclear arms talks. A nuclear missile field was located just a few dozen miles away, and Rudesill understood that threats to national security were threats to his own life and community.

“There was a poll of my class in junior high school, and it showed that a majority of us did not think we would live to graduate from high school,” he said. “The Cold War was very much present in our thoughts on a daily basis.”

An early awareness of the far-reaching impact of actions in Washington, D.C. and around the world motivated him to pursue a career in lawmaking and national security.

Rudesill will join the faculty at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law for the 2013-14 academic year. He will teach a course this fall on National Security Law and Process, and a course for 1Ls in the spring about legislation. Later, he will teach cyber law. Additionally, he will be teaching the Moritz Legislation Clinic, where students work directly with legislative leaders and their staffs on matters before the Ohio House and Senate.

“Ohio State has a really exciting model,” said Rudesill, who most recently served as a visiting professor at Georgetown Law Center and interim director of its Federal Legislation & Administrative Clinic. “My students at Georgetown advocate to the legislative branch. At Ohio State, students are working inside of it. Ohio State has one of the very best legislative programs in the country.”

Rudesill has made a career of advising senior leaders in all three branches of the federal government. However, his successful career in Washington, D.C. started with a failed bid for a seat in the North Dakota Legislature at the age of 22.

“I was running against an incumbent – a 66-year-old fifth-grade teacher. There were thousands of registered voters who had been in her classroom or had kids in her classroom who thought fondly of her,” Rudesill recalled with a chuckle. “It’s a good thing I lost. She was far better prepared than I was!”

That said, Rudesill gained two very valuable things from the experience: a great introduction to politics and the opportunity to meet U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad on the campaign trail.

Rudesill, who earned his bachelor’s degree from St. Olaf College and later his J.D. from Yale Law School, impressed Conrad, and the senator invited Rudesill to join his staff. A year later, Rudesill was Conrad’s primary national security legislative advisor. It was a position that he stayed in for eight more years.

When Conrad became chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Rudesill became the senior professional staff member responsible for national defense, intelligence, and foreign affairs spending and drafting portions of the annual budget resolution concerning those areas. It was incredibly instructive to translate policy objectives of committee members and input from the executive branch into the legislative process.

“At the federal level, the powers of Congress and the president are at their apex when dealing with issues of national security,” Rudesill said. “Working with Sen. Conrad, I had the opportunity to work at the intersection of law, process, policy, politics, and big personalities and play a significant role. It was a remarkable experience.”

In the executive branch, Rudesill was a member of the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition Team. He advised two presidential nominees as they prepared for U.S. Senate confirmation hearings – Dennis C. Blair, the nominee for director of national intelligence, and Leon Panetta, nominee for director of the CIA.

While partisanship is always a factor in a confirmation, Rudesill said there was “a lot of momentum at our backs” following the presidential election. At the time, the more vociferous debates in the country were concerning Iraq, abuse of detainees, warrantless wiretaps, and CIA black sites.

The hearings would be closely watched, though, and Rudesill said the team had a very short period of time with which to prepare two very different nominees. Blair, a former U.S. Navy admiral, was accustomed to dispensing with questions efficiently in crisp exchanges. Panetta, a politician and lawyer himself, was more anecdotal.

“We would have extensive briefings and what we called ‘murder boards,’ which were practice hearings. We would ask them questions in a direct and sometimes confrontational way to prepare them,” Rudesill said. “It’s better to get a tough question and have the emotional reaction for the first time with your team instead of when you’re up before the Senate Intelligence Committee. It was interesting for it to be my job to confront my clients in a hostile way.”

Experiences like those throughout his career are what Rudesill will draw from in his classroom in Drinko Hall, where he will teach students about the way law is influenced by processes, policy, politics, and personalities. He talks about teaching with the same passion he has in discussing lawmaking.

His wife, Rebecca, had told him for years that he would be an excellent professor. Finally, he listened and became a visiting professor at Georgetown. “I had no teaching experience, but I realized in very short order that this is what I was supposed to do,” he said. “I’ve also learned that it’s good to listen to your wife.”

The couple is looking forward to raising their 16-month-old daughter, Kate, in the Midwest. Avid baseball fans, they also are excited that there are four major league parks just a short drive away from Columbus. Of course, there will be a new football team to root for in the autumn as well.

“We are just really excited to be moving to Columbus,” Rudesill said, “and I am looking forward to Moritz, meeting my students and colleagues, and learning with them.”