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Solicitor General of the United States
|Solicitor General of the United States|
Flag of the United States Solicitor General
|United States Department of Justice|
|Style||Mr. Solicitor General|
|Reports to||United States Attorney General|
|Seat||Supreme Court Building and Department of Justice Headquarters|
with Senate advice and consent
|Constituting instrument||28 U.S.C. § 505|
|First holder||Benjamin Bristow|
|Deputy||Principal Deputy Solicitor General|
The Solicitor General of the United States is the fourth-highest-ranking official in the United States Department of Justice. The current Solicitor General, Noel Francisco, took office on September 19, 2017.
The United States Solicitor General represents the federal government of the United States before the Supreme Court of the United States. The Solicitor General determines the legal position that the United States will take in the Supreme Court. In addition to supervising and conducting cases in which the government is a party, the office of the Solicitor General also files amicus curiae briefs in cases in which the federal government has a significant interest. The office of the Solicitor General argues on behalf of the government in virtually every case in which the United States is a party, and also argues in most of the cases in which the government has filed an amicus brief. In the federal courts of appeal, the Office of the Solicitor General reviews cases decided against the United States and determines whether the government will seek review in the Supreme Court. The Solicitor General's office also reviews cases decided against the United States in the federal district courts and approves every case in which the government files an appeal.
Composition of the Office of the Solicitor General
The Solicitor General is assisted by four Deputy Solicitors General and seventeen Assistants to the Solicitor General. Three of the deputies are career attorneys in the Department of Justice. The remaining deputy is known as the "Principal Deputy," sometimes called the "political deputy" and, like the Solicitor General, typically leaves at the end of an administration. The current Principal Deputy is Jeffrey B. Wall, who succeeded Noel J. Francisco after Francisco was nominated to be Solicitor General in March 2017. The other deputies currently are Eric Feigin (who oversees the office's criminal docket), Edwin Kneedler, and Malcolm Stewart.
The Solicitor General or one of the deputies typically argues the most important cases in the Supreme Court. Other cases may be argued by one of the assistants or another government attorney. The Solicitors General tend to argue 6–9 cases per Supreme Court term, while deputies argue 4–5 cases and assistants each argue 2–3 cases.
The Solicitor General, who has offices in the Supreme Court Building as well as the Department of Justice Headquarters, has been called the "tenth justice" as a result of the close relationship between the justices and the Solicitor General (and their respective staffs of clerks and deputies). As the most frequent advocate before the Court, the Office of the Solicitor General generally argues dozens of times each term. Furthermore, when the office of the Solicitor General endorses a petition for certiorari, review is frequently granted, which is remarkable given that only 75–125 of the over 7,500 petitions submitted each term are granted review by the Court.
Other than the justices themselves, the Solicitor General is among the most influential and knowledgeable members of the legal community with regard to Supreme Court litigation. Six Solicitors General have later served on the Supreme Court: William Howard Taft (who served as the 27th President of the United States before becoming Chief Justice of the United States), Stanley Forman Reed, Robert H. Jackson, Thurgood Marshall, and Elena Kagan. Some who have had other positions in the office of the Solicitor General have also later been appointed to the Supreme Court. For example, Chief Justice John Roberts was the Principal Deputy Solicitor General during the George H. W. Bush administration and Associate Justice Samuel Alito was an Assistant to the Solicitor General. The last former Solicitor General to be successfully nominated to the court was Justice Elena Kagan. Only one former Solicitor General has been nominated to the Supreme Court unsuccessfully, that being Robert Bork; however, no sitting Solicitor General has ever been denied such an appointment. Eight other Solicitors General have served on the United States Courts of Appeals.
Within the Justice Department, the Solicitor General exerts significant influence on all appeals brought by the department. The Solicitor General is the only U.S. officer that is statutorily required to be "learned in law." Whenever the DOJ wins at the trial stage and the losing party appeals, the concerned division of the DOJ responds automatically and proceeds to defend the ruling in the appellate process. However, if the DOJ is the losing party at the trial stage, an appeal can only be brought with the permission of the Solicitor General. For example, should the tort division lose a jury trial in federal district court, that ruling cannot be appealed by the Appellate Office without the approval of the Solicitor General.
Call for the Views of the Solicitor General
When determining whether to grant certiorari in a case where the federal government is not a party, the Court will sometimes request the Solicitor General to weigh in, a procedure referred to as a "Call for the Views of the Solicitor General" (CVSG). In response to a CVSG, the Solicitor General will file a brief opining on whether the petition should be granted and, usually, which party should prevail.
Although the CVSG is technically an invitation, the Solicitor General's office treats it as tantamount to a command. Philip Elman, who served as an attorney in the Solicitor General's office and who was primary author of the federal government's brief in Brown v. Board of Education, wrote, "When the Supreme Court invites you, that's the equivalent of a royal command. An invitation from the Supreme Court just can't be rejected."
The Court typically issues a CVSG where the justices believe that the petition is important, and may be considering granting it, but would like a legal opinion before making that decision. Examples include where there is a federal interest involved in the case; where there is a new issue for which there is no established precedent; or where an issue has evolved, perhaps becoming more complex or affecting other issues.
Although there is usually no deadline by which the Solicitor General is required to respond to a CVSG, briefs in response to the CVSG are generally filed at three times of the year: late May, allowing the petition to be considered before the Court breaks for summer recess; August, allowing the petition to go on the "summer list", to be considered at the end of recess; and December, allowing the case to be argued in the remainder of the current Supreme Court term.
Several traditions have developed since the Office of Solicitor General was established in 1870. Most obviously to spectators at oral argument before the Court, the Solicitor General and his or her deputies traditionally appear in formal morning coats, although Elena Kagan, the only woman to hold the office, elected to forgo the practice.
During oral argument, the members of the Court often address the Solicitor General as "General." Some legal commentators have disagreed with this usage, noting that "general" is a postpositive adjective (which modifies the noun "solicitor"), and is not a title itself.
Another tradition, possibly unique to the United States, is the practice of confession of error. If the government prevailed in the lower court but the Solicitor General disagrees with the result, he or she may confess error, after which the Supreme Court will vacate the lower court's ruling and send the case back for reconsideration.
List of Solicitors General
|Picture||Solicitor General||Date of service||Appointing President|
|Benjamin Bristow||October 11, 1870 – November 15, 1872||Ulysses Grant|
|Samuel Phillips||December 11, 1872 – May 1, 1885|
|John Goode||May 1, 1885 – August 5, 1886||Grover Cleveland|
|George Jenks||July 30, 1886 – May 29, 1889|
|Orlow Chapman||May 29, 1889 – January 19, 1890||Benjamin Harrison|
|William Taft||February 4, 1890 – March 20, 1892|
|Charles Aldrich||March 21, 1892 – May 28, 1893|
|Lawrence Maxwell||April 6, 1893 – January 30, 1895||Grover Cleveland|
|Holmes Conrad||February 6, 1895 – July 1, 1897|
|John Richards||July 6, 1897 – March 16, 1903||William McKinley|
|Henry Hoyt||February 25, 1903 – March 31, 1909||Teddy Roosevelt|
|Lloyd Bowers||April 1, 1909 – September 9, 1910||William Taft|
|Frederick Lehmann||December 12, 1910 – July 15, 1912|
|William Bullitt||July 16, 1912 – March 11, 1913|
|John Davis||August 30, 1913 – November 26, 1918||Woodrow Wilson|
|Alexander King||November 27, 1918 – May 23, 1920|
|William Frierson||June 1, 1920 – June 30, 1921|
|James Beck||June 1, 1921 – May 11, 1925||Warren Harding|
|William Mitchell||June 4, 1925 – March 5, 1929||Calvin Coolidge|
|Charles Hughes||May 27, 1929 – April 16, 1930||Herbert Hoover|
|Thomas Thacher||March 22, 1930 – May 4, 1933|
|James Biggs||May 5, 1933 – March 24, 1935||Franklin Roosevelt|
|Stanley Reed||March 25, 1935 – January 30, 1938|
|Robert Jackson||March 5, 1938 – January 17, 1940|
|Francis Biddle||January 22, 1940 – September 4, 1941|
|Charles Fahy||November 15, 1941 – September 27, 1945|
|Howard McGrath||October 4, 1945 – October 7, 1946||Harry Truman|
|Philip Perlman||July 30, 1947 – August 15, 1952|
|Walter Cummings||December 2, 1952 – March 1, 1953|
|Simon Sobeloff||February 10, 1954 – July 19, 1956||Dwight Eisenhower|
|Lee Rankin||August 4, 1956 – January 23, 1961|
|Archibald Cox||January 24, 1961 – July 31, 1965||John F. Kennedy|
|Thurgood Marshall||August 11, 1965 – August 30, 1967||Lyndon Johnson|
|Erwin Griswold||October 12, 1967 – June 25, 1973|
|Robert Bork||June 27, 1973 – January 20, 1977||Richard Nixon|
|January 20, 1977 – March 4, 1977||Jimmy Carter|
|Wade McCree||March 4, 1977 – January 20, 1981|
|Rex Lee||August 6, 1981 – June 1, 1985||Ronald Reagan|
|Charles Fried||October 23, 1985 – January 20, 1989
Acting: June 1, 1985 – October 23, 1985
|January 20, 1989 – May 27, 1989||George H. W. Bush|
|Ken Starr||May 27, 1989 – January 20, 1993|
|January 20, 1993 – June 7, 1993||Bill Clinton|
|Drew Days||June 7, 1993 – June 28, 1996|
|June 28, 1996 – November 7, 1997|
|Seth Waxman||November 7, 1997 – January 20, 2001|
|January 20, 2001 – June 13, 2001||George W. Bush|
|Ted Olson||June 13, 2001 – July 13, 2004|
|Paul Clement||June 13, 2005 – June 2, 2008
Acting: July 13, 2004 – June 13, 2005
|Gregory Garre||October 2, 2008 – January 20, 2009
Acting: June 2, 2008 – October 2, 2008
|January 20, 2009 – March 20, 2009||Barack Obama|
|Elena Kagan||March 20, 2009 – May 17, 2010|
|May 17, 2010 – June 9, 2011|
|Don Verrilli||June 9, 2011 – June 25, 2016|
|June 25, 2016 – January 20, 2017|
|January 20, 2017 – March 10, 2017||Donald Trump|
|March 10, 2017 – September 19, 2017|
|Noel Francisco||September 19, 2017 – present|
- Note: Some terms overlap because the incumbent remained in office after a successor was named. The office has been vacant at times while awaiting the nomination or confirmation of a successor.
List of notable Principal Deputy Solicitors General
- Paul M. Bator – 1982 to 1983
- Donald B. Ayer – June 1986 to December 1988
- John Roberts – October 1989–January 1993 (Became Chief Justice)
- Paul Bender – 1993–1996
- Seth Waxman – 1996–1997
- Barbara Underwood – March 1997 to January 2001 (acting SG from January to June 2001)
- Paul D. Clement – 2001 to July 2004 (became acting SG)
- Gregory G. Garre – September 2005-June 19, 2008 (became acting SG)
- Neal Katyal – January 2009 to May 2010 (became acting SG)
- Leondra Kruger – acting principal deputy SG named in August 2010
- Sri Srinivasan – August 2011 to May 2013
- Ian Gershengorn – September 2013 to June 2016 (became Acting SG)
- Noel Francisco – January 2017 to March 2017 (became SG)
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