What Does a Solicitor General Do?

May 11, 2010

In what is news to none of you, Solicitor General Elena Kagan is President Obama’s newest Supreme Court nominee.  Upon mention of her current position, I was forced to make a somewhat embarrassing admission to myself:  I’m not completely sure what the Solicitor General does.

 I decided to find out.  I broke my curiosity down into two questions:

  1. How and when did the office originate? 
  2. What are the duties of the Solicitor General? 

 I got my answers, and here’s how I did it.  I started at the Solicitor General’s website, linked above, and spent just enough time there to discover a reference to the “Statutory Authorization Act of June 22, 1870,”  at 16 Stat. 162.  I found that citation on Westlaw, and discovered the act that created the office—the same act that created the Department of Justice.  We’re halfway there.

Moving on, I remembered seeing a reference to the Code of Federal Regulations on the Solicitor General’s site, so I ran the following query in the CFR database:  PR,CA(“SOLICITOR GENERAL”).  The search returned three results, and in them I found the answer to my second question.  I won’t completely spoil it for you, but among the duties listed in 28 C.F.R. § 0.20 is

“[c]onducting, or assigning and supervising, all Supreme Court cases, including appeals, petitions for and in opposition to certiorari, briefs and arguments[.]” 

To find Supreme Court cases argued by Elena Kagan, try:

Database: sct

Query: at(kagan)

For Oral Arguments, try:


Query: at(kagan)

Results: 6, Kagan Opened her argument in Citizen United this way:

I have three very quick points to make about the government position. The first is that this issue has a long history. For over 100 years Congress has made a judgment that corporations must be subject to special rules when they participate in elections and this Court has never questioned that judgment…