John Ryder of Harris Shelton Hanover Walsh PLLC was recently appointed general counsel of the Republican National Committee.
The appointment is subject to membership approval at the committee’s spring meeting in April.
As general counsel, a volunteer position, Ryder will advise the chairman, Ryan Reince Priebus, and supervise the full-time legal staff, which includes a chief counsel, deputy counsel and an assistant. The committee’s redistricting department also reports through the office of chief counsel and has its own lawyers on staff.
Following the past presidential election, the chairman of the RNC started the Growth and Opportunity Project. Ryder explained it as “a very systematic review of various aspects of the party’s efforts and image and messaging.”
As part of the project, there are eight task forces reviewing different elements, including two that Ryder will be a part of: presidential primaries and campaign finance laws.
Involved with Republican politics for nearly four decades, Ryder is more than qualified for the position of general counsel.
“I’ve done redistricting work since the late ’70s and then I’ve been involved in various election law matters and lectured on election law issues both for the bar association and for the Republican National Lawyers Association since the late ’80s, so I’ve got a history of involvement,” Ryder said.
He began his work with the national committee in 1996 and served two four-year terms, was off for four years, then served again beginning in 2008; he was the director of the Southern Republican Leadership Conference held in Memphis in 2006.
This interest in politics began while a student at White Station High School and continued through Wabash College in Indiana where he studied history and was involved with the college Republicans and a libertarian group on campus.
Regarding his passion for politics, he said, “What’s intriguing about it to me is that this is the intersection of law and politics and that, to me, is a fascinating juncture of two important institutions to a free society: the rule of law and the expression of the will of the people through the political process.”
Ryder attained his law degree from Vanderbilt University School of Law and returned to Memphis in 1974 to work for the law firm of Canada, Russell & Turner.
A succession of Memphis law firms followed, including Laughlin, Halle, Regan, Clark & Gibson before going to work with Harris Shelton in 2000 where he focuses his practice on bankruptcy and commercial litigation. Though election law is a diversion from his typical focus, his work with it provides a good base that will come into play with his new appointment.
“I served on the standing committee on rules for the RNC during my service with the RNC beginning in ’96, and I’ve been on the convention rules committee in 2004 and 2008,” he said. “A lot of what we do, for instance with presidential primaries, is rule-based, so evaluating the rules and having an understanding of the rules of the party is an important part of the job.”
Ryder has also served as Shelby County delinquent tax attorney, Shelby County Home Rule Charter Commission and currently is the litigation counsel for Shelby County Election Commission, a nonpartisan commission, and has defended them in a number of election contests over the years.
He also is a member of the Memphis and Tennessee bar associations, and the American Bankruptcy Institute and Mid-South Commercial Law Institute.
Married almost 40 years to his high school sweetheart, Lain, a teacher at St. Mary’s Episcopal School, the couple has two daughters. The appointment as the RNC’s general counsel will keep Ryder busy and take him away fairly regularly with travel to and from Washington, he said, adding “It’s going to be an interesting, intellectual challenge and I look forward to it.”