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Senate Judiciary Committee OKs Obama's Solicitor General Nominee

May 12, 2011

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Nina Totenberg

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The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved the nomination of Donald Verrilli to be the next Solicitor General of the United States, moving him one step closer to confirmation.

There was just one dissenter, Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions.

The committee's ranking Republican, Iowa's Charles Grassley, gave what he called "tepid" support to the nomination, noting that Verrilli is being nominated to an executive branch position with a limited term.

"My lukewarm support," said Grassley, should not be interpreted to imply support for Verrilli should he be nominated for any other position. Translation: I won't necessarily vote for him if he's nominated for a judgeship.

The Verrilli nomination ran into a wall of Republican hostility after the Obama administration announced it would not defend the constitutionality of the federal law banning gay marriage. Verrilli, currently the Deputy White House Counsel, was not involved in that decision; he was recused because his former law firm had been involved in the case. Nonetheless, Verrilli alarmed some Republicans at his confirmation hearing when he said he would defend all statutes "unless instructed by his superior not to do so."

In subsequent written answers to questions, he repeatedly echoed the formulations of previous nominees, declaring that there are only two exceptions to the solicitor general's duty to defend federal laws. Those exceptions are laws that infringe on Presidential power and laws for which no reasonable constitutional argument can be made. Verrilli said that he would resign if ordered to go beyond those two exceptions.

Senator Grassley said the nominee's lengthy and "thoughtful" written answers had made him "more comfortable" with Verrilli.

The nomination now moves to the Senate floor, where, barring GOP delaying tactics, it is expected to win easy confirmation. Verrilli would then become the Government's chief advocate in the U.S. Supreme Court and would decide which government appeals to bring in the lower courts. There has been no confirmed solicitor general since Elena Kagan resigned following her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. For the past year, her deputy, Neal Katyal, has served as the acting solicitor general.

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