‘Common Law’ S6 E4: A Prescription for Saving Democracy

Podcast guests
March 26, 2024

Two former White House officials on different sides of the political aisle, Melody Barnes and John Bridgeland ’87, talk about ways to strengthen democracy and work across differences.



Risa Goluboff: Americans are worried about the state of democracy, both at home and abroad. On this episode of Common Law, two former White House officials on both sides of the political aisle will discuss how we can overcome polarization and solve some of our most pressing problems.

Melody Barnes: Everything flows downhill from democratic culture. Our institutions will not be strong, our practices will not be protected if we don't have a healthy body politic.

John Bridgeland: The good news that gives me hope is that when you look at surveys of Americans, political affiliation is actually extremely low in terms of how they view their own identity.


Risa Goluboff: Welcome back to Common Law. I'm Risa Goluboff, the dean of UVA Law School. During our sixth season, we're asking guests with a range of views to have a free exchange of ideas on a given issue. For this episode, a very special episode, we will be joined by former Obama administration official Melody Barnes, who now runs UVA's Karsh Institute of Democracy, and former George W. Bush administration official John Bridgeland, who is also a UVA Law School alumnus. They have worked together in multiple capacities, including recently on More Perfect, a bipartisan alliance of a hundred organizations aimed at renewing democracy. Thanks to you both so much for joining us today.

Melody Barnes: It's wonderful to be here. Thank you so much for having us, Risa.

John Bridgeland: Yeah. Thank you, Risa. Great to be with you and with Mel.

Risa Goluboff: Let's learn a little bit more about each of you. Melody, can you tell us about John? And then John, you can tell us a little bit about Melody.

Melody Barnes: John – and that's the last time you will hear me call Bridge John – John is the founder and executive chairman of the Office of American Possibilities. And he's a practitioner senior fellow at UVA's Miller Center. I'm also thrilled that he serves as a member of the Karsh Institute of Democracy advisory board. He has founded or led countless organizations that help others. Um, that is really part of Bridge's DNA. He's worked on issues from combating COVID-19 to supporting the resettlement of refugees, to re-envisioning community safety and policing. He's the founding CEO and vice chairman of Malaria No More, which has mobilized the public and private sectors to end malaria deaths in Africa. Before all of those recent roles, as you mentioned, Risa, he worked in the White House as director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. So that's one of the many things we have in common. He worked for President George W. Bush. He also was the director of National Service and Faith Based Efforts after 9/11. And when I was White House domestic policy adviser, he served on the White House Council for Community Solutions. For which I am eternally grateful. So in other words, Bridge has been very, very, very busy.

John Bridgeland: I have to say, Melody Barnes is one of my favorite people in life, and it's just been such a privilege to get to know her over the last 15 years. She's, uh, the executive director of this newly formed Karsh Institute of Democracy, which of course, Risa, I think you now chair.


Risa Goluboff: Right.

John Bridgeland: She's also the J. Wilson Newman Professor of Governance at the Miller Center of Public Affairs at University of Virginia. She's a senior fellow at the law school's Karsh Center for Law and Democracy, serves on the board of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which of course oversees Monticello. She's also co-chair with me of the Office of American Possibilities, More Perfect and other initiatives. We try to attract her to everything we do.


John Bridgeland: And during the administration of President Obama, she was assistant to the president of the United States and director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. Prior to that, she served as executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress and then chief counsel to the late Senator Ted Kennedy, another UVA law alum on the Senate Judiciary Committee. So Mel, is there anything you're not doing?


Melody Barnes: Just trying to keep up with you, Bridge.

John Bridgeland: Oh my goodness.

Risa Goluboff: Let me ask this question, which I've wondered for a while now: You two have worked together in lots of different capacities. You've held the same jobs at various different times. How did you meet and did you always get along and … set the scene?


John Bridgeland: During the presidential transition, there's always this wonderful spirit of learning from people in the past. When I had the job, I reached out to Ted Sorensen, Joe Califano, Roger Porter, Bruce Reed. They all had different pieces of advice for me, although Bruce Reed just handed me a bottle of whiskey.


John Bridgeland: And I served only in the first term of president, uh, George W. Bush, but when Mel came in during the presidential transition as head of the Domestic Policy Council, I actually met her then and we had an opportunity to talk about domestic policy and various, you know, priorities of the incoming president and ways in which we might be able to work together. And then Mel, she was kind enough to suggest me for the White House Council for Community Solutions. I think I was the only Republican on that council. People used to joke, you know, when we have the fancy parties after the council, we're not sure we're going to include Bridge.


Melody Barnes: That's not true.

John Bridgeland: But Mel always did.


Risa Goluboff: This sounds like exactly the kind of collaboration that I think we need more of and that you two really model for me and for so many others. And I think it's probably why you two keep cropping up together in so many different places and institutions and projects and why I thought this would be a great conversation. So, we’ll be right back with a "free exchange” between Melody Barnes and John Bridgeland.


Risa Goluboff: So I'm curious, what was your work like in your respective presidential administrations and what is that role like and then what were the other leading issues of the day when you were in the role?

John Bridgeland: You, you get these jobs and you're in your West Wing office. And the first reaction I had was, you know, I majored in government in college. I went to UVA Law School, I worked on Capitol Hill, but nobody trains you for these jobs.


John Bridgeland: And you're in the Oval Office at least twice a week briefing the president on major, in my case, domestic policy initiatives, including initiatives that would appear in the State of the Union to millions of Americans to engage them in the effort. And so, the first person I called was Ted Sorensen, who did everything in the Kennedy administration. His advice to me was, “No matter how fine the policy is you develop, really get to know your speech writer, because how it's articulated means as much, if not more, than the policy itself.” Joe Califano, who had the job in the Johnson administration, said, “Big ideas inspire people. Incrementalism does not.” Of course, he had the war on poverty and the Civil Rights Movement, and one thing after another. Roger Porter, who served both President Reagan and President Bush 41 said, “Be mindful of the taxpayer. Check the evidence. Does the program actually have any evidence of effectiveness? And worry about the national debt.”

And then, as I mentioned, Bruce Reed, who held the job for Clinton, just gave me a bottle of whiskey.


John Bridgeland: But we had a number of priorities. Education reform, with which we worked very closely with Senator Kennedy, actually. But for Senator Kennedy, the No Child Left Behind legislation with disaggregated data for the first time on how students of color and vulnerable students were doing in our system, you know, would not have happened. It, uh, wasn't a perfect piece of legislation. It had over-testing, but we're just about to publish a piece showing the impact on increasing high school graduation rates from 71% to 86%, which means more than 5 million students graduated rather than dropping out. We also put, for the first time, a faith-based initiative in the White House because the data showed most Americans served and most of the social services were ultimately provided through faith-based institutions and yet they were being discriminated against in the provision of federal support because of the worries in the First Amendment. But there were ways constitutionally to ensure that they could actually be part of the social service delivery. And Sergeant Shriver, who had the war on poverty, he said, “We worked with faith-based institutions all the time. You just had the audacity to have a White House office.”



John Bridgeland: We had other initiatives. I'll mention one that's surprising. We had a very, uh, aggressive environmental agenda. President Bush created the largest marine reserve in the world, bringing the national park idea to the oceans in creating Papahanaumokuakea Marine National monument, which it took us a long time to learn how to say.


John Bridgeland: But it spawned this movement of hope spots in marine reserves around the, the world, because the oceans are in trouble, and they're the big regulator of the climate and have a big impact on climate change. So that, that was another profound effect. Last thing I'll say is PEPFAR, the president's emergency plan for AIDS relief and the president's malaria initiative were groundbreaking, bipartisan, and to this day are making such a difference in saving lives.

Melody Barnes:When I came into the White House, during that transition period, we sat down with our Bush administration colleagues, and I remember they took us in, they pulled out the charts, they told us, “This is how we set up the office, this is the way that we approached it, you'll probably want to change some things.” But one of the things I was struck with, and remain struck by, is what it means to be involved in the peaceful transfer of power. And having individuals from another party who had supported the other candidate lean in all the way to make sure that we could be successful and that we could get up and running, because, as you remember, this was the beginning of the Great Recession. Over the summer prior to the election, we really started to watch the economy swirl around the drain. So it was a crisis moment. There was a lot of collaboration during that period to address those issues, to help us move in, and to hand off the baton very, very smoothly. You know, I, I often tell people that this job is like a day at the beach.

Risa Goluboff: That sounds lovely!

Melody Barnes: It does sound lovely, except you may remember often when you go to the beach, you walk into the waves and you get slapped down by a wave.

Risa Goluboff: Yup.

Melody Barnes: And then by the time you can readjust your swimsuit, get the salt out of your eyes, there's another wave and another wave and another wave. And that's what it feels like. And the sand is constantly moving under your feet. And one of the pieces of advice that I was given was, “On your bulletin board, identify the goals that you have because there will be so much incoming that you will easily be moved by what you have to respond to, as opposed to remembering what the president's goals are, the administration's goals, and what you need to do day over day to try and move that agenda forward. So we came in during the Great Recession, tried to use that crisis as a moment of opportunity at the same time. We also managed to pass the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act that focused on the Corporation for National and Community Service, something that's dear to both Bridge's and my heart. Obviously, ultimately went on to pass health care reform. Did that as part of a larger bill that actually was the largest reform of higher education since Lyndon Johnson passed the Higher Education Act, um, during the Great Society. We managed to, uh, overturn and move away from, um, “Don't Ask, Don't Tell.” Um, and then, I think it may be surprising to people, there are things that we built on from the Bush administration. It's not this complete break. We built on what had been started with the faith-based office. We reformed it some in, under the vision of President Obama, but built on that idea and did a lot of work building on what the Bush administration had started and Bridge talked about in terms of evidence-based policymaking, which is another place that Bridge and I have worked together quite a bit over the last many years.

Risa Goluboff: Great.

John Bridgeland: I'd be remiss if I didn't mention, of course, the wave hitting you. We had 9/11, and all our domestic priorities were sort of parked. And I was in the Situation Room three times a day, you know, should pilots have guns in cockpits? But one of the things after 9/11, the phones were lighting up like a Christmas tree and Americans were asking how they could help. So we created, uh, the Freedom Corps, it was a national service effort – largest expansion of Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, VISTA, new national service opportunities. Largest increases then and since. But thanks to Mel, we actually worked together with Senator Kennedy on the Serve America Act, and he called on my cell phone after it was passed and said, “Remember my brother talked about passing a torch?” I said, “Well, I was just a baby, but yeah, I would learn about it later.”


John Bridgeland: “We really blowtorched this thing.” And he let out this big laugh, and I thought instantly of Mel, because Mel and I worked so closely on that together. That was one of the great bipartisan moments. Orrin Hatch, a conservative Republican, was on the Senate floor naming the bill after Senator Kennedy. Imagine that happening today.

Risa Goluboff: Yeah.

John Bridgeland: It's a rare thing.

Risa Goluboff: You know, I, I clerked for Justice Breyer who worked for Senator Kennedy and worked closely with Senator Hatch and, you know, those two names in conversation with each other, Kennedy, Hatch, very frequent out of his mouth when talking about collaboration and compromise and getting things done in Washington. So, it's not surprising to me that they then came out of your mouth in that story.

John Bridgeland: Yeah.

Risa Goluboff: Mel, you were talking about the transition, you know, the peaceful transition of power, and it does strike me when you talk about both of your roles in the White House and your goals then. The way you talk about them, they're within the assumption of a strong democracy and, you know, strong democratic institutions and you are both reacting to events and pursuing your own priorities and goals, but within the context of kind of, the assumed safety and preservation of our democratic institutions. And now you are both working actively to promote and advance democracy against what are some threats, right? And so I'm curious, why is that what you're doing today? Maybe that's a, a obvious question, but you know, how do you move from being on particular domestic policy agenda goals to thinking more generally about democracy and how to advance it and sustain it and promote it?

Melody Barnes: Bridge, do you want to go first, chronologically?

John Bridgeland: Yeah. Maybe I'll just start chronologically. So 20 years ago, after 9/11, I co- chaired a White House summit that was effectively on democratic renewal. And we had to bring the president of Latvia, [Vaira] Vīķe-Freiberga, over to talk about what it was like to live in a country with the absence of the rule of law and peaceful transfer of power and lack of freedom of speech, all these democratic norms, values, institutions that Americans, you know, took for granted because they didn't have the context of the absence of those things. Fast forward, you know, 15 years later, and we're seeing, every day, threats to those institutions. And so pulled together an effort called More Perfect. And Mel and I are co-chairs of it with Cecilia Munoz and General Stan McChrystal. And for the first time, 30 of the nation's presidential centers, from George Washington's Mount Vernon through the Obama Foundation, are collaborating together on something. And in this case, something so fundamental. Also the National Archives Foundation, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, it's 125 public media affiliates, the Karsh Institute at the center of it with Mel, and more than a hundred partners. And the big idea is to advance together five sustainable democracy goals. And, uh, many of them address the urgent threats, uh, but also we, we are mindful of the longer view – civic learning, national service and volunteering, bridging divides, trusted elections and effective governance, and access to trusted news and information. The encouraging thing is, notwithstanding the polarization, we're making some extraordinary progress together across politics and sectors and I want to thank Mel for being at the center of it and for, from scratch, building a Karsh Institute as, like the model for what higher ed can do across America. It's really exciting.

Melody Barnes: Well, thank you, Bridge. And I can only imagine listeners are thinking, “Are these two people for real?”


Melody Barnes: Because they keep saying, “Oh, no, you, Mel. No, you, Bridge.” But  we are sincere. And I say that as a preface to Bridge, I hope people understand the magnitude of what he just described when he described More Perfect. The number of people, organizations, leaders from across the country that are raising their hand to be a part of this network that is guided not only by the five democracy goals, but by very specific focus on outcomes and how do we engage the public in these outcomes and turn this into a call for, to action, by Americans of all ages and those who reside in the United States to fight for our democracy. It's truly extraordinary. You know, Risa, you asked why. I am thinking back to a day, an evening actually, I was sitting in Senator Kennedy's kitchen. The Senator had said, “It's pouring outside. You're never going to be able to get a cab home. Let's sit in the kitchen, have dinner, and we'll talk.” And I asked him – and I was thinking about his career, its ups, its downs, the murder of two of his brothers – and I said, you know, “Senator, how have you done this for so long? It's been really hard.” And he said, “But you know, when it works, when this system works, it is amazing.” And I share his sense of, of wonder and amazement at this imperfect system that we have, um, with the challenges that it has – long term and near term – but it still ultimately allows for people to make decisions about their society and their community. And I think that is an extraordinary thing, and if we can work toward the fulfillment of those aspirations, of the ideas and the values that undergird democracy, that I see as life's work. And I see as being a mission that is well worth working to fulfill. The reason I started doing this work after years in politics is because I had been working on two-, four- and six-year cycles, you know, working in the House and the Senate and the White House, and I knew that those cycles were too short to address the challenges facing democracy that are not just two-, four-, eight-year challenges. They're decades-long generational challenges.

John Bridgeland: I just want to add that, you know, we're coming up on the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, and Jefferson, who had principally the pen, you know, penned this mystical notion of the pursuit of happiness, not just as an individual right, you know, to an education or a family vacation or raise a family, et cetera. But it was also a cooperative enterprise, the public happiness that we help one another achieve. And democracy’s a really demanding form of government. And people say, “Oh, we're so polarized,” but actually since the beginning of the Constitution, which excluded Blacks, Native Americans, women, men without property, we've always been divided. The Constitution has provided a framework through which, notwithstanding our divisions, we can work together to do extraordinary things.

Melody Barnes: Yeah, I think, I mean, Bridge, you call attention to that phrase, "the pursuit of happiness." And I know our mutual friend, Jeff Rosen, who's recently written a book about this says, 'It's not about feeling good. It's about doing good.'

John Bridgeland: Yeah.

Risa Goluboff: Mmm.

Melody Barnes: I mean, that's what the pursuit of happiness was foundationally and philosophically about. And democracy allows us to do good if we lean in and if we fight for it. And this is about the fight for democracy at this point.

John Bridgeland: Yes.

Risa Goluboff: So can you say more, um, both of you, about the fight for democracy? What do you see as the concrete threats?

John Bridgeland: I'd say the threat, as Mel mentioned, to the peaceful transfer of power. People making claims about things that are untrue, that are misleading, such as the fact that the election was somehow stolen when Republican, very conservative officials who served as federal judges, solicitor general of the United States, many of these people I served with in the Bush administration, did a review of all 64 cases that were filed. And in 63, there was no evidence and they were dismissed. In one case, there was some fraud, but it wasn't consequential. And so I think, interestingly, More Perfect, before the midterms, we hosted an event with President George W. Bush, Condi Rice, John Meacham, and all these heroic state election officials like Bill Gates Jr., Brad Raffensperger, and got millions of dollars out to the five battleground states to educate and engage institutions and the media on how elections actually work, the checks and balances to avoid error and fraud, and to push back on people, including candidates for secretary of state, remarkably, who were making claims about the election that weren't true. And encouragingly, all six of those candidates, uh, were defeated.

We also supported the Electoral Count Reform Act to clarify, modernize that outdated 1887 law and do things like clarify that the vice president's role was ministerial. He can't reject the slate of electors. But we're also worried about the long-term needs of democracy. The paucity of civic learning in the United States. Since we started More Perfect, seven new states, making it 48 states across the nation, uh, now require civic education in high schools, which, you know, we have to have discussions of the problems of Americans' democracy like we used to. The last thing I'll say is 2,500 local news outlets have disappeared. And it's really democracy's immune system. And they hold public officials accountable. You wouldn't have a George Santos as a candidate if there had been a strong local news outlet reporting on all his misstatements. With John Palfrey, the MacArthur Foundation and 22 donors, we've mobilized $500 million dollars to support local news outlets. So those are some of the threats and how we're working to address them.

Melody Barnes: I think about the United States a lot for obvious reasons. But the United States also sits in a global stream of a rise of authoritarianism. And I think what we are witnessing around the world are economic strife, also shifts in demographics. And all of this is contributing to a sense of fear and uncertainty among populations for different reasons. Um, some of it is about the loss of economic security. For some people, it is a strong sense of a loss of an understanding of who they are in their country, and how they are reflected in the future of their country and what that means for themselves and for their children. And I also think that there are individuals and organizations that are using and exacerbating those trends in the desire to grab power. And the use of social media to quickly move disinformation and misinformation about what's happening, what's happening to you, someone is coming for you, to create anger and bitterness and contribute to the further fracturing, not only in the United States, but around the world. In looking at that and thinking about the fact that in 2024, about 49% of the world's population will be voting. Um, this will be one of the most consequential election years, certainly of our lifetime. Billions and billions of people. And understanding that, what that means to us as a nation and to our future, in the spirit of not feeling good, but doing good, the pursuit of, of happiness and the aspirations for our democracy and those democratic values that animate our constitutional republic. Tolerance, pluralism, the rule of law. And it's those issues that the Karsh Institute is focusing on. We have a stream of work that focuses on citizens’ participation, their sense of representation, and their ability to hold accountable those whom they have elected – so their relationship to democratic institutions and democratic practices. Bridge mentioned, we are focusing a lot on local media and its relationship to democracy and also civic learning, dialogue across difference, um, so that we can productively disagree, in addition to finding consensus to move our nation forward. And also democratic culture. I think everything flows downhill from democratic culture. Our institutions will not be strong, our practices will not be protected and valued if we don't have a healthy body politic.

Risa Goluboff: What gives you hope, each of you, in the work that you do? Where do you find optimism? You can't do the work that you do without having that, right? Uh, so where does it come from? Where do you see it?

John Bridgeland: Yeah, I would say it's interesting, the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin was at the launch of More Perfect, and she said, “Across American history, most transformational change has occurred from the ground up. The citizen soldiers of the revolution, people who cared about a place, and eventually it became a national park, people who cared about other people and improved their lot in life.” And I think what's interesting is that big ideas have always inspired Americans. The civic moonshots. From the creation of the Charters of Freedom, to the Lewis and Clark expedition, to the creation of the national park. I mean, imagine the thought of putting large tracts of land into federal custody during the industrial age for the enjoyment and use of all future generations and inspired national parks in every country around the world. To the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or the president's Malaria Initiative that saved 14 million lives, even though malaria was eradicated in the United States in the 1950s, there's no domestic constituency for it here, but that kind of compassion and hope. The other thing is, notwithstanding this new trend of affective polarization, where one side views the other side as the enemy, which is a very different tenor of what I think Mel and I experienced when we were working on Capitol Hill, where you had a lot of conflict around issues, but not so much viewing the other side as the enemy. The good news that gives me hope is that when you look at surveys of Americans, they first self-identify with their families, with their friends, with being an American, with faith, with, uh, institutions like the University of Virginia, with work, with school. And the political affiliation is actually extremely low in terms of how they view their own identity. And I think this national narrative that's unnecessarily driving us apart, we've got to rescue that notion that in our individual communities and institutions locally, we can do extraordinary things. And banding together across politics and sectors, we can also reshape and reform the national dialogue. And, and I'm this isn't just Bridge's rhetoric, Robert Putnam wrote a whole book about this called “The Upswing,” saying we had the same gloomy trends in the Gilded Age, a hundred-plus years ago. And in the early part of the 1900s through community-based institutions, civic associations, settlement houses, Boys and Girls clubs, Rotary Clubs, we had a ground-up effort that taught us the habits of democracy, enabled us to work across difference, and ushered in a 60-year trend of social cooperation, greater economic equality, less political polarization, and a stronger culture of we, instead of a narcissistic culture, and I think that's what we can aspire to as a nation.

Melody Barnes: Well, I want to double down on what he said.


Melody Barnes: I'm an optimist by nature and I think the three of us are. I, I know both of you well enough.

Risa Goluboff: I think we all are, yup.

Melody Barnes: But that doesn't mean that I am not deeply, deeply, deeply concerned right now. But that also means you have to lean in, you put your shoulder to the wheel. And what gives me hope is that I see other people doing the same, that there is now a greater awareness and discussion about our democracy. People of all ages, across demography, across geography, so people are more aware than I think they've been in a very, very long time. People do care. Some of the polling work that Bridge and I have seen recently indicate that people care about our democracy. They may define it in different ways and there's work to be done there, but they care. And ultimately those individual acts, the individual attention can then bring people together to build for a systemic change. And I think that is what our history shows us and tells us. In these moments of crisis, we can emerge stronger and better. And I see green shoots of that and I am hopeful for it.

John Bridgeland: Amen.

Risa Goluboff: Amen, that's wonderful. My one last question is: You've both touched on how you talk to people across different views, how you've worked together, your models of this. You've both talked about what the conditions are for going forward. But I'm curious if you were talking to, say, my students, what advice would you give them toward creating relationships like you have – understanding each other and working towards similar goals, you know, what would you tell them?

John Bridgeland: You know, I would say, get out of your comfort zone, actually.

Melody Barnes: Mm-hmm.

John Bridgeland: I know there's a lot of effort and it's very, uh, very, um, needed right now on civil dialogue, but I actually think putting people in hard shared work together. That's why I love a year more of national service. I know General McChrystal is, is on the case because he saw, over 34 years in the U.S. Army, how people from, you know, Akron and Albuquerque and very different backgrounds, perspectives, faiths, politics came together in a shared mission and how it changed their view for the rest of their lives. That's why I like the American high school exchange project that David McCullough III is leading to bring kids from high school, very different circumstances together in a dialogue. And I think having those serious, longer-term experiences — do a year of national service, or get involved in a project in your community with people who have different backgrounds and views than you. I actually, it makes the effort better to hear a different point of view and it makes your own view, I think, more informed when you get out of that isolation of just your own perspective.

Melody Barnes: I, not surprisingly, agree with that.


Melody Barnes: My father and Senator Kennedy were both at Fort Jackson for basic training, but a few years apart. And when reading Senator Kennedy's oral history, he describes this situation, which I won't describe. His point was in the Army, you learned who you can count on, and race, class, none of that matters because you are there for a mission and you figure that out by working together with people. And I shared that transcript with my dad and I said, ”So dad, do you agree with this?” So now the perspective of a Black man born in 1935, who had been in the same place a few years later. And he said, “Absolutely!” And I think that speaks to what Bridge is talking about. We see that in the service. We see that in national service. And ultimately, the foundation for that is an opportunity for people to be curious about one another, to learn from one another, perhaps to be uncomfortable, and to be okay with that, to learn from that. And out of that, you can find the most interesting, gratifying experiences. You may or may not change your mind about something. But out of that comes knowledge, the ability to walk through the world with greater insight, I think, and also the most extraordinary relationships. I mean, who would have predicted, you know, a hundred years ago that John Bridgeland from Ohio, the birdwatcher, um, would befriend Melody Barnes from Richmond, Virginia, who doesn't really birdwatch.


John Bridgeland: Mel, there's still time.

Melody Barnes: There's still time.


Melody Barnes: But this wonderful, not only working relationship, but friendship that we've developed. And it doesn't mean that we haven't disagreed about things or we haven't debated each other on issues, as we've worked together, but we've learned things from one another and hopefully been able to work together to try and make this, this corner of our community, and our society a little bit better.

John Bridgeland: That's wonderful, Mel.

Risa Goluboff: Well, I have to say, I personally am so inspired by the work that you both do and the way that you do it and the way you go through the world. And I'm just so delighted to have had the opportunity to talk to you about it all. It's really important.

Melody Barnes: Thank you so much, Risa.

John Bridgeland: Yeah. Thank you, Risa. I, I just want to add, you know, to the young people, you want to get up every day and love what you do. And one of the things I've learned over time is the power of relationships and also the people with whom you work are as important as the things you work on.

Melody Barnes: Mm-hmm.

John Bridgeland: So having the opportunity, honestly, to work with you, Risa and you, Mel, over so many years has been, you know, one of the greatest privileges of my life. So thanks for having us today. It's been a thrill to be here.


Melody Barnes: Hear, hear.

Risa Goluboff: Thank you, thank you. It was so wonderful to have you both.


Risa Goluboff: That does it for this episode of Common Law. If you'd like more information on the work of Melody Barnes or John Bridgeland, visit our website, Common Law Podcast dot com. There, you'll also find all of our previous episodes. We hope you'll join us next time to hear another free exchange and more explorations of how law shapes our lives. I'm Risa Goluboff. Thanks for listening.


Credits: Do you enjoy Common Law? If so, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to the show. That helps other listeners find us. Common Law is a production of the University of Virginia School of Law and is produced by Emily Richardson-Lorente and Mary Wood.