Solicitor General

Solicitor General in the United States

Third-ranking official in the U.S. Department of Justice (behind the attorney general and the deputy attorney general). Among the responsibilities of the Solicitor General of the United States, three stand out. The solicitor general must decide which of the cases lost by the federal government at the trial level should be appealed. Second, the solicitor general must determine which cases should be pursued to the Supreme Court level. Whenever a federal agency loses a case before the court of appeals, it must formally request the solicitor general to petition for review. The final judgment on these matter rests with the solicitor general. Third, he or she supervises the preparation of cases that are to be reviewed by the Supreme Court. This includes determination of what the government’s legal position ought to be and the preparation of the briefs and other documentation that argues for or supports that position. In addition, the solicitor general conducts the oral argument before the Supreme Court in the most important of these cases. (1)

According to the Encyclopedia of the American Constitution, the solicitor general is a senior officer of the United States Department of Justice with special responsibilities in the representation of the United States and its officers and agencies before the Supreme Court, and in the administration of justice in the federal appellate courts. (…) (He is) solicitor general is the chief advocate in the Supreme Court for the United States government, its officers, and its agencies, but he is also known as the Tenth Justice. By tradition rather than constitutional mandate, the solicitor has a “dual responsibility”.

Analysis and Relevance

The Solicitor General of the United States functions as chief counsel for the federal government. The solicitor general has the discretion to select the cases that will be appealed. This means the solicitor general has direct impact on the substance of federal criminal and civil law by choosing which cases to review. Generally the solicitor general is quite selective in petitioning the Supreme Court for review. This restraint has several effects. First, it assigns priority to particular policy issues. Second, it allows the government to advance only its strongest cases. Third, this selective approach heightens the chances of the Court reviewing the cases. While only about five percent of the total number of cases seeking certiorari review are granted, the Justice Department succeeds in obtaining review in about 70 percent of the cases it petitions for certiorari. Finally, screening by the solicitor general has an impact on the Supreme Court’s workload because many’cases funnel through the Justice Department. (2)

In English law, the Solicitor General is a “law officer of the crown, appointed by patent during the royal pleasure, and who assists the attorney general in managing the law business of the crown. (…) He is first in right of preaudience.” (3)

Solicitor General Background


Notes and References

  1. Definition of Solicitor General from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California
  2. Id.
  3. This definition of Solicitor-general is based on the The Cyclopedic Law Dictionary

See Also

Attorney General of the United States (Judicial Personnel issue) (Judicial Personnel issue) Justice Department (Judicial Personnel issue).

Further Reading

Solicitor General: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Solicitor General. This part provides references, in relation to Solicitor General, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Solicitor General by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Solicitor General and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Solicitor General or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Solicitor General and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Solicitor General. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Solicitor General should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Solicitor General when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

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