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 <www.gpoaccess.gov/gmanual> (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.
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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." (85) By tradition or for political expediency, but most often, I suspect, because of elected politicians' respect for democratic institutions, state attorneys general often place much more than a thumb on that side of the scale.