Solicitor General

(redirected from solicitors general)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Encyclopedia.

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).

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.

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.
References in periodicals archive ?
Archibald Cox in particular has been described as "among the most distinguished Solicitors General in the history of the office" (Navasky 1971,280).
This combination--the United States' role as an interested party resolutely and exclusively representing one-half of the federalism equation, plus the heavy thumb Solicitors General ordinarily place on the scale in favor of defending every Act of Congress in every case, no matter how weak--not only makes it unlikely that the Court will give extra credibility to the United States' expertise or institutional perspective on federalism questions, but also may cause the Court to approach the Solicitor General's filings without the traditional understanding that he has been carefully selective about which cases and arguments to bring to the Court.
There may even be those who think of the Solicitors General as a corps of immortals, for as Waxman discovered, "[s]ome 60 years ago, a letter found its way into the United States mail addressed simply `The Celestial General, Washington, D.
We have also included James Layton's article about state solicitors general, which provides a historical overview of their work and an outline of their responsibilities.
Seth Waxman has spoken of "the heavy thumb Solicitors General ordinarily place on the scale in favor of defending every Act of Congress in every case, no matter how weak.
All of the Solicitors General of the United States have been men; hence, for them, I use "he.