February 09, 2004

Yes, even the Solicitor General...

Can't say I've ever given much thought to Theodore B. Olson, the Solicitor General of the United States:

The major function of the Solicitor General's Office is to supervise and conduct government litigation in the United States Supreme Court. Virtually all such litigation is channeled through the Office of the Solicitor General and is actively conducted by the Office. The United States is involved in about two-thirds of all the cases the U.S. Supreme Court decides on the merits each year.

The Solicitor General determines the cases in which Supreme Court review will be sought by the government and the positions the government will take before the Court. The Office's staff attorneys participate in preparing the petitions, briefs, and other papers filed by the government in its Supreme Court litigation. The Solicitor General personally assigns the oral argument of government cases in the Supreme Court. Those cases not argued by the Solicitor General personally are assigned either to an attorney in the Office or to another government attorney. The vast majority of government cases are argued by the Solicitor General or by one of the Office's other attorneys.

Another function of the Office is to review all cases decided adversely to the government in the lower courts to determine whether they should be appealed and, if so, what position should be taken. The Solicitor General also determines whether the government will participate as an amicus curiae, or intervene, in cases in any appellate court.
So much for the office. Who's the dude? Well, besides being a possible anti-Clinton conspirator, Theodore Olson seems like a decent guy. (If you can decipher this jabbering complaint against Olson, a hat tip and a nod.)

But even if he was a rotten egg, what could he actually do? Does he stonewall any important cases before they reach the Supreme Court? Doubtful. Supposedly he made a splash on some abortion decision back in 2002. But so what? Did his arguments actually have any effect? I really have no clue...

...update: Now we're on to something (slanty letters all mine):

This view, one to which I generally subscribe, emphasizes that the SG is a political appointee of the President, subject to his authority and direction. In that role, the SG's immediate responsibility is, in large measure, to shape and advocate the legal theories and philosophies of the President he or she serves. [...]The President's views may be as rhetorical and political as he chooses (though he, too, has a duty to uphold the Constitution and took an oath to do so). The SG's Office is supposed to provide legal grounding for those views.
Fair enough. So two questions. How far do SGs tend to stretch their legal reasoning to accomodate the White House? And more importantly, how has what sort of splash has the SG made in the three years since Olson's been in charge? Or, for that matter, during the Clinton years, or beyond? Guess this will take more than a tiny bit of googling.
-- Brad Plumer 7:01 PM || ||