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May 12, 2011 4:16 PM

Senate Judiciary Committee Recommends Donald Verrilli for Solicitor General

Posted by Victor Li

Verrilli Former Jenner & Block litigation partner Donald Verrilli, Jr., cleared an important hurdle on Thursday in his bid to become the next solicitor general of the United States, as the Senate Judiciary Committee overwhelmingly recommended his confirmation by the full Senate, according to the Blog of Legal Times, a sibling publication.

As the BLT reports, the 17-to-1 vote came as a bit of surprise given the antagonistic partisan atmosphere that surrounded Verrilli's testimony to the committee in March. At that time, Verrilli had the misfortune of running into an angry Republican party a month after Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Obama administration would no longer defend the constitutionality of section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage to be "a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife."

Republican senators Orrin Hatch (Utah), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), and Jeff Sessions (Alabama) criticized the administration during Verrilli's hearing for its position on DOMA, the BLT reports. They grilled the nominee about whether or not he agreed with the administration's stance and asked whether he would have the courage or independence to insist on defending a law that he believed was constitutional.

Verrilli, who had recused himself on the DOMA deliberations within the Justice Department because Jenner had represented one of the parties involved in one of the DOMA cases while he still was a partner at the firm (specifically Pedersen v. Office of Personnel Management in Connecticut), told the committee that he would defend federal law "unless instructed to do otherwise" by his superiors. Verrilli also submitted written follow-up responses assuring the senators that he would resign if told to take a position "based on partisan political considerations or other illegitimate reasons," the BLT reports.

The written responses apparently were enough to mollify almost all of the Republicans on the committee. However, Verrilli might not want to call on them for future references. According to the BLT, Grassley called his support "tepid" and "lukewarm" and took the rare step of warning that he might not support Verrilli for another position in the government should he be nominated again. Sessions, who cast the lone vote against Verrilli, praised him as a "fine lawyer," but said that the Justice Department already had too many lawyers who have represented terrorism suspects. (Verrilli worked on an amicus brief for detainee Jose Padilla while at Jenner & Block.) "I have great respect for the skills of Mr. Verrilli," Sessions said. "If it hadn’t been for the pattern of appointments, I wouldn't feel obligated to vote no."

Verrilli is one of President Barack Obama's top legal advisers and currently serves as a deputy White House counsel. He has argued 12 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Verrilli won a big victory on behalf of movie studios when he argued the 2005 file-sharing case of MGM Studios Inc. v. Grokster Ltd. The office of solicitor general has been vacant since Elena Kagan was nominated to the Supreme Court last year. Neal Katyal has been serving as acting solicitor general. The BLT reports a final vote could come at any time, although when that will happen is up to the Democrats.

 

Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi / The National Law Journal

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