Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Michael Chertoff (2005–2009): Secretary of Homeland Security

Michael Chertoff was born on November 28, 1953, in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He graduated from Harvard University in 1975 and from Harvard Law School in 1978. From 1979 to 1980, he served as a clerk to Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, Jr.

Chertoff then became a federal prosecutor, serving as U.S. attorney for the district of New Jersey, first assistant U.S. attorney for the district of New Jersey, and assistant U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York. During this time, he personally prosecuted cases of organized crime including the leaders of La Casa Nostra who were convicted for directing the criminal activities of the American Mafia.

In 2001, Chertoff was appointed the assistant attorney general of the criminal division of the Department of Justice at the beginning of George W. Bush's administration. He was instrumental in overseeing the administration's legal response to the September 11 terrorist attacks and tracing them to the al-Qaida network. He also worked to increase information sharing between the Federal Bureau Investigation and state and local officials.

President Bush appointed Chertoff as the United States circuit judge for the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003. That position was a lifetime appointment, so many people did not think he would leave the court for another position in administration. However, Chertoff accepted Bush's nomination for secretary of homeland security, and he was unanimously confirmed by the Senate on February 15, 2005.