James C. Duff, an influential figure in Washington’s legal circles for the past 36 years, was named the new president of the Newseum on Tuesday.
Duff, 57, held two staff meetings Tuesday. Since 2006, he has been the chief administrative officer of the U.S. court system, and he told that staff of his pending departure. Then he addressed the staff at the Newseum, where from 2000 to 2006 he was outside counselor.
“I was very familiar with the organization and what its mission is. I like the purpose of educating the public about the freedoms that we have,” Duff said.The Newseum, open on Pennsylvania Avenue NW since April 2008, focuses on the First Amendment and media issues in a broad spectrum of exhibitions and forums.
In Washington, Duff has worked for blue-chip law firms, Georgetown University’s law school and the inner sanctums of the U.S. Supreme Court. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. appointed him in 2006 to the office with a $7 billion budget and a federal judicial army of 35,000 employees. The Newseum has 139 employees.
Duff’s museum experience came through his judicial ties. When he was counselor and administrative assistant to William H. Rehnquist, he helped prepare the chief justice for his chancellor duties at the Smithsonian Institution. And the U.S. Supreme Court has its own small museum. “Chief Burger converted the ground floor to a museum, and I worked with the curator’s office. The court has 1 million visitors a year,” Duff said.
For 10 years, he has taught civil liberties and constitutional law at Georgetown, where he earned his law degree. “For the last two years, I have brought students to see the 9/11 materials and the film. That is very powerful. I have a strong affinity for what the museum does and what our freedoms are,” Duff said.
Duff, a native of Hamilton, Ohio, graduated from the University of Kentucky and was a walk-on member of its basketball team. “We were the number one freshman class in the country. When we were seniors, I was no longer on the team, but we were national runner-up. They were beaten by UCLA,” recalled Duff, who played guard.
Although the Newseum has a double-digit admission price ($21.95 for two consecutive days for adults), crowds have taken advantage of special offers and group rates. In April, it had 84,000 visitors, its highest monthly total since its opening and an increase of 18 percent over the same period in 2010.
Duff will take over sometime this summer from Charles L. Overby, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, who is retiring. In a statement, Overby said: “He understands our First Amendment mission thoroughly. His fresh perspective will keep the programs of the Freedom Forum and the Newseum relevant and compelling.”