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General News

The Intern Files: Office of the Solicitor General of the United States

The following blog post was written by Peer Advisor Zach, a pre-law CCAS junior studying history, law and society, and jazz studies.

As I sat in a black van with tinted windows, driving down Constitution Avenue towards the Supreme Court, Edwin Kneedler, a Deputy Solicitor General of the United States and 125+ Supreme Court Oral Argument veteran, turned around and said to me, “So what the hell happened at the Oscars last night?”

Innocently sitting at my desk, the head of the Research & Publications division walked in and handed a thick packet to the paralegal sitting at the desk behind me. The packet was the United States’ Amicus Brief in State of Washington v. Trump, being delivered for cite-checking.

And every morning, Noel J. Francisco, the current Acting Solicitor General, President Trump’s pick to fill the role permanently, and the legal architect of Travel Ban 2.0, smiles at me and says good morning.

These are just a few of the quirks of my job as an Administrative Intern in the Office of the Solicitor General of the United States. It’s an interesting place to be, nowadays, but to understand exactly why, let me give you a quick briefing on what exactly the OSG is and what the Solicitor General does.

The Solicitor General of the United States is responsible for representing the interests of the federal government in all litigation before the Supreme Court of the United States. This includes in oral arguments, where the SG represents the “United States” and its executive agencies when they are parties to a case; via writing amicus curiae briefs, even in cases where the United States is not a direct party, and deciding when to appeal cases to the Supreme Court. For instance, Solicitor General Don Verrilli represented Sylvia Burwell in the Obamacare litigation (King v. Burwell, Zubik v. Burwell, etc.), and the OSG wrote the Obama administration’s brief in Obergefell v. Hodges, the gay marriage case.

It’s an office that has immense influence on the development of law, and it’s rightly considered by many to be the pinnacle of the legal profession – just ask Justice Thurgood Marshall, who called his time as Solicitor General “the best job I ever had.”

The internship has given me an incredible level of insight into my future profession. One of the main perks is carte blanche access to the Supreme Court, so I’ve been able to ride in the van with lawyers preparing to argue on a given day, watch them argue, and observe them debrief from the experience. For a nerd like me who would wake up at 5:00am to see Oral Arguments anyway, it’s a dream come true.

As a history major, it’s been fascinating to walk through the halls of the Justice Department and see faces of Attorneys General and Solicitors General past looking down on me. The OSG, one of the offices created by the 1870 Act to Establish the Department of Justice, has a deep history. It’s been involved in just about every major Supreme Court decision in our nation’s history: former SG Samuel Phillips represented Homer Plessy in Plessy v. Ferguson. Solicitor General Philip Perlman first suggested in his brief for the United States in Henderson v. United States that Plessy should be overturned. Assistant to the Solicitor General Philip Elman wrote the amicus curiae brief in Brown vs. Board of Education which suggested the “with all deliberate speed” approach to racial desegregation.

It’s an office that has been the primary force for justice and change since the very outset of its existence. Merely being present and attentive during the past few tumultuous months to watch the nation’s best litigators, do their work, irrespective of politics, has been a fascinating and instructive experience. I would encourage anyone who is interested in an internship that truly gives you a platform for high-level observation to apply for the internship for the fall, and feel free to reach out with any questions you might have.