Of Political Principals and Legal Principles

The Solicitor General of the United States

Authored by: Richard L. Pacelle

Routledge Handbook of Judicial Behavior

Print publication date:  October  2017
Online publication date:  October  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138913356
eBook ISBN: 9781315691527
Adobe ISBN:


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There is a wide range of thought about what makes the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) such a special institution. The views from both inside and outside the office span a dimension that is anchored by legal considerations at one end and political preferences on the other. While the various theories appear to be competing pictures, they are complementary explanations of portions of the multifaceted work of the office and its attorneys. The job of the solicitor general (SG) is rather complicated and no sweeping generalization adequately captures its complexity. The SG and the office have a variety of duties and responsibilities and have to play a variety of roles, almost simultaneously. I begin with the notion that the solicitor general is a strategic actor, balancing politics and law; the need to serve the president, Congress, and the Supreme Court; and the need to move policy in the desired direction, while trying to adhere to existing precedent. While solicitors general must be learned in the law, they are asked to litigate legal questions nested in political issues. While not a perfect representation of the constraints and opportunities attendant to the position, I consider the solicitor general as an agent who must serve a number of sometimes competing principals.

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