Obama chooses solicitor general

By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 25, 2011; A04

President Obama announced Monday that he would nominate Donald B. Verrilli Jr. for solicitor general, turning to a veteran Supreme Court practitioner to be the government's advocate before the high court.

If confirmed by the Senate, Verrilli would fill the post held by Elena Kagan, who served as the Obama administration's solicitor general before her nomination to the Supreme Court. Verrilli is a deputy counsel to the president and a former top Justice Department official and private attorney.

Often called "the 10th justice,'' the solicitor general is the government's representative at the Supreme Court, advising the attorney general on legal matters and deciding whether the government will appeal adverse lower court rulings. The job is one of the most prestigious in the Washington legal world and has been held by such historical luminaries as future president William Howard Taft and future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall.

In a brief statement, Obama said that Verrilli and another administration nominee announced Monday, David S. Cohen for Treasury Department undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes, are "accomplished individuals" and that "I'm confident they will serve ably in these important roles."

Verrilli had been an associate deputy attorney general before moving to the White House. As a private litigator for more than 20 years at Jenner & Block's D.C. office, he participated in more than 100 Supreme Court cases and argued 12. They included such subjects as the entertainment industry's efforts to stop illegal sharing of music and videos, and whether executing prisoners by lethal injection is constitutional.

Lawyers said Verrilli is among the most respected members of the Supreme Court bar.

"He's an excellent choice,'' said Theodore B. Olson, who was solicitor general in the George W. Bush administration. "He is a hard-working, very intelligent, very well informed, thoughtful and articulate lawyer.''

Walter Dellinger, who was acting solicitor general in the Clinton administration, said Verrilli will be effective because "he is well known to the Supreme Court justices" and is respected within the administration. "That will ensure that the views of the solicitor general's office carry great weight,'' Dellinger said.

Kagan's deputy, acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal, had been among the candidates to replace her. He had represented Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a convicted former driver for Osama bin Laden, and had helped win a 2006 case in which the Supreme Court struck down the initial system of military commissions President Bush established to try detainees.

Some conservatives have criticized political appointees in the Obama Justice Department who represented detainees earlier in their careers.

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