Two former White House officials with experience working across divides join the latest episode of “Common Law” to talk about their efforts at shoring up democracy amid growing polarization in the United States.

The University of Virginia School of Law podcast’s sixth season, called “Free Exchange” and hosted by Dean Risa Goluboff, features guests debating and discussing timely legal topics. For the fourth episode, Melody Barnes, executive director of UVA’s Karsh Institute of Democracy, and John Bridgeland ’87, founder and executive chairman of the Office of American Possibilities, discuss their roles at the White House, how they became partners in several public policy efforts, and what Americans can do to strengthen democratic institutions and work together across differences.

Both Barnes and Bridgeland served as directors of the White House Domestic Policy Council — Barnes in the Obama administration, and Bridgeland in the George W. Bush administration.

After 9/11, Bridgeland directed the administration’s national service and faith-based efforts, through which he launched USA Freedom Corps, which promoted volunteer service opportunities. Bridgeland is also the founding CEO and vice chairman of Malaria No More, which has mobilized the public and private sectors to end malaria deaths in Africa. Bridgeland, a practitioner senior fellow at UVA’s Miller Center of Public Affairs, serves on the Karsh Institute’s advisory board, along with Goluboff, who is chair of the board.

Barnes is the Wilson Newman Professor of Governance at the Miller Center. She’s a senior fellow at the Law School's Karsh Center for Law and Democracy and serves on the board of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which oversees Monticello. Barnes has also been executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress and chief counsel to the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy ’59.

Among the several public policy efforts the pair has partnered on, Bridgeland and Barnes work together on More Perfect, a bipartisan alliance of more than 100 organizations aimed at renewing democracy.

“Common Law” is available on Apple PodcastsStitcherYouTubeSpotify and other popular podcast platforms. The show is produced by Emily Richardson-Lorente.

Past seasons have focused on “The Future of Law,” “When Law Changed the World,” “Law and Equity,” and “Co-Counsel” on seasons four and five.

You can follow the show on the website or Twitter at @CommonLawUVA.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

Media Contact