The Justice Department's No. 3 official, Stuart Delery, is resigning to explore options in the private sector, leaving as the highest-ranking openly gay leader in the agency's history.
Delery started at the department on Inauguration Day in 2009, rising from his post as a top aide, to the chief of the civil division, and then serving as acting associate attorney general. Along the way, he personally argued appeals court cases challenging the Defense of Marriage Act, which had defined marriage as between one man and one woman, and defended the Obama administration's counterterrorism initiatives as well as subsidies in the Affordable Care Act.
"It's been a complete privilege to work here at the Department of Justice," Delery, 47, told NPR in an interview Tuesday morning. "It's been a real honor to be part of it, and I feel really lucky as a lawyer to have had the chance to do it."
A high point of his time in the administration: leading a governmentwide effort to review federal statutes and regulations to make sure same-sex couples received equal benefits and rights after the Supreme Court's 2013 ruling in United States v. Windsor, which held the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.
"It was certainly a challenging project, but in some ways one of the most satisfying because it affected individual people in their daily lives in a really concrete way," Delery said.
Over the past two years, he spent time traveling to military bases to hear concerns from service members about financial scams and voting rights. Delery also made cases involving tainted food and medicine a priority for Justice Department lawyers, winning convictions and prison sentences against top executives in those industries.
Delery said he is looking forward to spending more time with his husband and their sons, ages 15 and 11. He hasn't yet decided where he will work next.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch called Delery "an indispensible source of wisdom, leadership and inspiration."
"We can all take pride in the many ways he has helped to make this country more fair, more equal, and more just," Lynch said.
Lynch is soon expected to name his replacement, Bill Baer, who currently leads the department's antitrust division, according to a source familiar with the move.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder praised Delery's integrity and devotion to the job. "His efforts impacted in a positive way the lives of millions of our fellow citizens," Holder said. "He is a brilliant lawyer, thoughtful policymaker, and exceptional public servant. I am grateful for his service and proud to call him a friend."