Solicitor General Donald Verrilli discussed the history and purpose of the Solicitor General’s office in the keynote address at Tuesday’s Sixth Circuit Practice Institute. He explained that the commonly-held idea that he is representing the United States as an abstraction is misguided. With every important issue, the Solicitor General reaches out to agencies and executive branch officials to learn everyone’s views and take advantage of their expertise. But because there is rarely unanimity, and often no way to reach a consensus on difficult legal issues, the Solicitor General essentially becomes the conciliator-in-chief. He also explained that he has the ultimate responsibility to choose weigh the interests of the various parts of the government and determine the best position for the United States as a whole, and looking to the future, rather than simply looking to the interests of the individual or agency that is directly affected by the case.
Solicitor General Verrilli also emphasized the importance of safeguarding the credibility of his office with the Supreme Court, and discussed a few failures of some of his predecessors (such as in the Korematsu case and with respect to the office’s failure to stand up to Jim Crow laws for over sixty years). Similarly, he discussed the importance of not allowing the exigencies of the moment to give a concession or take a position that the government might later regret. This has led the Solicitor General to avoid taking appeals—or positions that might otherwise win cases—to avoid making lasting bad law.