Melody Barnes

Professor of Practice, Dorothy Danforth Compton Professor, and Co-Director of the Democracy Initiative

Fast Facts

  • Director of White House Domestic Policy Council under President Barack Obama
  • Former executive vice president of the Center for American Progress
  • Chief counsel to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy

Areas Of Expertise

  • Domestic Affairs
  • Health
  • Law and Justice
  • Social Issues
  • Economic Issues
  • Leadership
  • Politics
  • The Presidency

Melody Barnes is co-director for policy and public affairs for the Democracy Initiative, an interdisciplinary teaching, research, and engagement effort led by the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences at the University of Virginia. She is the Dorothy Danforth Compton Professor and a professor of practice at the Miller Center and is also a distinguished fellow at the UVA School of Law. A co-founder of the domestic strategy firm MB2 Solutions LLC, Barnes has spent more than 25 years crafting public policy on a wide range of domestic issues. 

During the administration of President Barack Obama, Barnes was assistant to the president and director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. She was also executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress and chief counsel to the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Her experience includes an appointment as director of legislative affairs for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and assistant counsel to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights. Barnes began her career as an attorney with Shearman & Sterling in New York City. 

Barnes earned her BA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she graduated with honors in history, and her JD from the University of Michigan. She serves on the boards of directors of several corporate, non-profit, and philanthropic organizations.


Melody Barnes News Feed

Frieze Magazine highlights the accomplishments of Melody C. Barnes, one of 30 Black women honored for trailblazing racial justice. Pictured here with President Barack Obama, Barnes served as Obama's Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and as Executive Vice President of the Center for American Progress. She co-directs UVA's Democracy Initiative.
Melody C. Barnes Frieze
Melody Barnes and Laurent Dubois, on the New Faces of Democracy podcast discussing UVA's Democracy Initiative
Melody Barnes New Faces of Democracy podcast
The Thomas Jefferson Foundation, the private, nonprofit organization that owns and operates Monticello, announced new leadership for its Board of Trustees as of January 2021. Melody C. Barnes assumed the chairmanship of the board, and technology entrepreneur Tobias Dengel became vice chair. Monticello also welcomed four new trustees from across the nation: Renée Grisham of Albemarle County, Virginia, Nancy Cain Marcus of Dallas, Texas, Christopher J. Toomey of Santa Barbara, California and William H. Walton III, of Jacksonville, Florida.
Melody Barnes The Thomas Jefferson Foundation
President Trump's defense team will make their argument Friday in his impeachment trial. Elizabeth Chryst, the Republican Senate secretary during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, and Melody Barnes, of the University of Virginia's Democracy Initiative, helped broker that trial's rules as chief counsel to Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy. They join Judy Woodruff to discuss Trump’s trial.
Melody Barnes PBS NewsHour
As former President Trump's impeachment trial moved into high gear Wednesday, we spoke with two people who worked in the Senate impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. Elizabeth Chryst was the Republican Senate secretary during the trial, and Melody Barnes helped broker the trial's rules as chief counsel to the late Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy. They join Judy Woodruff to discuss.
Melody Barnes PBS NewsHour
The editors of Community Wealth Building and the Reconstruction of American Democracy explore the divide between our democratic aspirations and our current reality, answering questions such as, How can we create and sustain an America that never was, but should be? How can we build a robust multiracial democracy in which everyone is valued and everyone possesses political, economic, and social capital? How can democracy become a meaningful way of life, for all citizens?
Melody Barnes Miller Center Presents