United States Solicitor General: Wikis


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United States Solicitor General
Seal of the Department of Justice
Department of Justice, Office of the Solicitor General
Elena Kagan

since 19 March 2009
Formation October 1870
Prior to this date,
the Attorney General exercised
most of the duties now performed
by the Solicitor General.
Succession Not Eligible
Website Office of the Solicitor General
Organization of Solicitor General's Office

The United States Solicitor General is the person appointed to represent the Government of the United States before the Supreme Court of the United States. Currently, the Solicitor General is Elena Kagan, who was confirmed by the United States Senate on March 19, 2009.

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 Solicitor General's office also files amicus curiae briefs in cases in which the federal government has a significant interest in the legal issue. The Solicitor General's office 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 appeals, 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 deputies and seventeen attorney assistants. 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." The Principal Deputy currently is Neal Katyal. The other deputies currently are Michael Dreeben, Edwin Kneedler, and Malcolm L. Stewart.

The Solicitor General or one of the deputies typically argues the most important cases in the Supreme Court. Each of the attorney assistants also typically argues cases each year.


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"[1] as a result of the relationship of mutual respect that inevitably develops 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. As a result, the Solicitor General tends to remain particularly comfortable during oral arguments that other advocates would find intimidating. Furthermore, when the Solicitor General's office 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.[2]

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. Because of the high degree of legal ability and expertise required for this position, the Office of the Solicitor General is generally considered to be the highest office for a practicing lawyer in the United States, as opposed to the Office of the Attorney General, which while always held by a lawyer, is more of an administrative, political office. Four Solicitors General have later served on the Supreme Court: Robert H. Jackson, Stanley Forman Reed, Thurgood Marshall, and William Howard Taft (who was Chief Justice of the United States). 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 G. Roberts, Jr. was the Principal Deputy Solicitor General during the Reagan administration and Associate Justice Samuel Alito was an Assistant to the Solicitor General. 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 Appeal.

Within the Justice Department, the Solicitor General exerts significant influence on all appeals brought by the department. 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.


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 Kagan herself has elected to forego the practice. More significantly, the Solicitor General is permitted to "lodge" in the appellate record new evidence that would ordinarily not be considered by the justices. Another tradition, possibly unique to the United States, is the Solicitor General's right and practice of confession of judgment: the Solicitor General can simply drop a case if she considers the government's prior official position to be unjust, even if the government has already won in lower court.

List of Solicitors General

Picture Solicitor General Date of Service Appointing President
Benjamin Helm Bristow, Brady-Handy bw photo portrait, ca 1870-1880.jpg Benjamin H. Bristow October 1870–November 1872 Ulysses Grant
Samuel F. Phillips.jpg Samuel F. Phillips November 1872–May 1885
John Goode - Brady-Handy.jpg John Goode (Acting) May 1885–August 1886 Grover Cleveland
George A. Jenks.jpg George A. Jenks July 1886–May 1889
Orlow W. Chapman May 1889–January 1890 Benjamin Harrison
William Howard Taft, Bain bw photo portrait, 1908.jpg William Howard Taft February 1890–March 1892
Charles H. Aldrich.jpeg Charles H. Aldrich March 1892–May 1893
Lawrence Maxwell Jr.jpeg Lawrence Maxwell, Jr. April 1893–January 1895 Grover Cleveland
Holmes Conrad.jpg Holmes Conrad February 1895–July 1897
John K. Richards July 1897–March 1903 William McKinley
Henry M. Hoyt February 1903–March 1909 Theodore Roosevelt
Lloyd Wheaton Bowers April 1909–September 1910 William Taft
FWLehman.jpg Frederick W. Lehmann December 1910–July 1912
William Marshall Bullitt July 1912–March 1913
John William Davis.jpg John W. Davis August 1913–November 1918 Woodrow Wilson
Alexander C. King November 1918–May 1920
William L. Frierson June 1920–June 1921
James M Beck.jpg James M. Beck June 1921–June 1925 Warren Harding
Time-magazine-cover-william-mitchell.jpg William D. Mitchell June 1925–March 1929 Calvin Coolidge
Charles Evans Hughes jr.jpg Charles Evans Hughes, Jr May 1929–April 1930 Herbert Hoover
Thomas D Thatcher.jpg Thomas D. Thacher March 1930–May 1933
James crawford biggs .jpg James Crawford Biggs May 1933–March 1935 Franklin Roosevelt
Stanley Forman Reed.jpg Stanley Reed March 1935–January 1938
Roberthjackson.jpg Robert H. Jackson March 1938–January 1940
Francis Biddle January 1940–September 1941
Charles H. Fahy - Project Gutenberg etext 20587.jpg Charles H. Fahy November 1941–September 1945
J. Howard McGrath.jpg J. Howard McGrath October 1945–October 1946 Harry Truman
Perlman.jpg Philip B. Perlman July 1947–August 1952
Walter J. Cummings, Jr. December 1952–March 1953
Sobeloff.jpg Simon Sobeloff February 1954–July 1956 Dwight Eisenhower
J. Lee Rankin.jpg J. Lee Rankin August 1956–January 1961
ArchibaldCox.jpg Archibald Cox January 1961–July 1965 John F. Kennedy
Thurgoodmarshall1967.jpg Thurgood Marshall August 1965–August 1967 Lyndon Johnson
Griswolderwin.jpg Erwin N. Griswold October 1967–June 1973
Bork2.jpg Robert H. Bork June 1973–January 1977 Richard Nixon
Wademccree.jpg Wade H. McCree March 1977–August 1981 Jimmy Carter
Rex E. Lee August 1981–June 1985 Ronald Reagan
Charles Fried.jpg Charles Fried October 1985–January 1989
Kenneth W. Starr.jpg Kenneth W. Starr May 1989–January 1993 George H. W. Bush
Drew S. Days, III.jpg Drew S. Days, III May 1993–July 1996 Bill Clinton
Walter E. Dellinger III (acting) August 1996–October 1997
Waxman.jpg Seth P. Waxman November 1997–January 2001
Barbara D. Underwood (acting) January 2001–June 2001 George W. Bush
Theodore Olson.jpg Theodore B. Olson June 2001–July 2004
Paul D. Clement.jpg Paul D. Clement June 2004–June 2005 (acting)
June 2005-June 2008
Gregory G. Garre.jpg Gregory G. Garre June 2008-October 2008 (acting)
October 2008–January 2009
Edwin Kneedler January 2009–March 2009 (acting) Barack Obama
Elena Kagan 1.jpg Elena Kagan March 2009-present


  1. ^ Lincoln Caplan, The Tenth Justice: The Solicitor General and the Rule of Law (New York: Knopf, 1987)
  2. ^ Thompson, David C.; Wachtell, Melanie F. (2009), "An Empirical Analysis of Supreme Court Certiorari Petition Procedures", George Mason University Law Review 16 (2): 237, 275, http://ssrn.com/abstract=1377522  
  • Lincoln Caplan, The Tenth Justice: The Solicitor General and the Rule of Law (New York: Knopf, 1987)
  • Kermit Hall. The Oxford Guide to the Supreme Court of the United States

External links



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