Solicitor General

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Solicitor General

An officer of the U.S. Justice Department who represents the federal government in cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The solicitor general is charged with representing the Executive Branch of the U.S. government in cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. This means that the solicitor and the solicitor's staff are the chief courtroom lawyers for the government, preparing legal briefs and making oral arguments in the Supreme Court. The solicitor general also decides which cases the United States should appeal from adverse lower-court decisions.Congress established the office of solicitor general in 1870 as part of the legislation creating the Department of Justice. Although early solicitors occasionally handled federal trials, for the most part the solicitor general has concentrated on appeals to the Supreme Court. In this role the solicitor has come to serve the interests of both the executive branch and the Supreme Court.

The federal government litigates thousands of cases each year. When a government agency loses in the federal district court and the federal court of appeals, it usually seeks to file a petition for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court. The Court uses this writ procedure as a tool for discretionary review. The solicitor general reviews these agency requests and typically will reject most of them. This screening function reduces the workload of the Supreme Court in processing petitions, and it enhances the credibility of the solicitor general when he or she requests certiorari. The Court grants review in approximately 80 percent of the certiorari petitions filed by the solicitor general, compared with only 3 percent filed by other attorneys.

The solicitor general occasionally files Amicus Curiae (friend of the court) briefs in cases where the U.S. government is not a party but important government interests are at stake. Sometimes the Court itself will request that the solicitor file a brief where the government is not a party. The Court also allows the solicitor general to participate in oral arguments as an amicus.

Four former solicitors general later served on the Supreme Court: William Howard Taft, stanley f. reed, robert h. jackson, and Thurgood Marshall.

Further readings

Caplan, Lincoln. 1988. The Tenth Justice: The Solicitor General and the Rule of Law. New York: Vintage Books.

Pacelle, Richard L. 2003. Between Law & Politics: The Solicitor General and the Structuring of Race, Gender, and Reproductive Rights Litigation. College Station: Texas A&M Univ. Press.

Salokar, Rebecca Mae. 1992. The Solicitor General: The Politics of Law. Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press.

U.S. Government Manual Website. Available online at <> (accessed November 10, 2003).

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Solicitor General

n. the chief trial attorney in the Federal Department of Justice responsible for arguing cases before the Supreme Court, and ranking second to the Attorney General in the Department.

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.

Solicitor General

law officer for England and Wales in the Westminster Parliament, deputy to the Attorney General. In the USA a law officer who assists an Attorney General and the official who represents the federal government in court.
Collins Dictionary of Law © W.J. Stewart, 2006
References in periodicals archive ?
Lawyer New Sin Yew said the solicitor-general can under the Federal Constitution exercise the AG's powers and functions if the latter is indisposed, noting that the federal government 'would be able to carry out legal reforms even in absence of an AG'.
Lawyer Surendra Ananth, who is the co-chair of the Bar Council's constitutional law committee, said the solicitor-general can carry out any of the AG's functions and can as an acting AG still advise on the drafting of laws since it is carried out by the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC).
'The prosecutorial role of the AG should be handled by the solicitor-general,' he said, noting that the separation of such functions was common in many democracies.
'The interim AG is only there temporarily before the new AG is appointed,' he said, referring to Solicitor-General Engku Nor Faizah.
Like Lim, another constitutional lawyer, Surendra Ananth, said the AG can be replaced with the solicitor-general in the Pardons Board.
Citing 40A of the 11th Schedule of the Federal Constitution, Surendra said the solicitor-general 'may perform any of the duties and may exercise any of the powers of the attorney-general' in the Board.
'My view is that the solicitor-general can provide the written opinion required under Article 42(9) of the Federal Constitution to be given and considered by the Pardons Board,' he said.