Obama Admin’s Supreme Court Lawyer Resigns After 5 Years

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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent
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U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli submitted his resignation Thursday after five years of representing the federal government before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Verrilli was an attorney in private practice before joining the Obama administration as a senior adviser at the Department of Justice, and later as deputy White House counsel. A graduate of Yale and Columbia Law School, he clerked for liberal Judge Skelly Wright of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and liberal U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan. He became solicitor general in 2011, following Elena Kagan’s appointment to the Supreme Court.

President Barack Obama called Verrilli “a dedicated public servant who has helped our nation live up to its promise of liberty and justice for all.”

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said he is “one of the most consequential Solicitors General of all time.” (RELATED: DOJ Defies Federal Judge To Protect White House’s Amnesty)

Verrilli leaves behind a decidedly mixed record. Some legal analysts have praised his effective advocacy in groundbreaking cases like Obergefell v. Hodges and NFIB v. Sebelius, but he often struggled in high-profile litigation.

His defense of the Affordable Care Act during oral arguments at the Supreme Court in March, 2012, was widely panned for its frequent stutters and wandering hypotheticals. One liberal observer called it “one of the most spectacular flameouts in the history of the court.” The Supreme Court’s four liberal jurists frequently intervened during the proceedings to help bring his argument to full form. At the same time, senior White House aides privately pressured him to avoid arguing that the individual mandate constituted a “tax” for fear of political consequences.

Despite his victory in the Obamacare case, his tenure saw a variety of major defeats. In 2014, the Court found closely held for-profit companies may deny contraception coverage to employees based on religious objections in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, over the White House’s vigorous objection. That same year, Verrilli and the Obama administration were on the receiving end of a humiliating 9-0 defeat in NLRB v. Noel Canning, which vacated a series of recess appointments made by the president.

His most significant loss came in Shelby County v. Holder. The Supreme Court torpedoed Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which effectively left section five “immobilized” per the case’s four dissenting justices. The ruling precipitated a flurry of legislation reforming voting practices around the country, to the ire of Democrats.

Verrilli will be succeeded by Principal Deputy Solicitor General Ian Gershengorn, who will likely hold the post until Obama leaves office early next year. He has not announced what he intends to do upon leaving the Justice Department in June.

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