Is Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. an overmatched lawyer, or does he just have to defend poor positions?

Your Editor almost feels sorry for him!

Another Bad Day for Obama’s Lawyer, But Democrats Working on Plan B

April 25, 2012 | By 6 comments

Arguments were heard today in the Supreme Court in the lawsuit the Obama administration brought against the state of Arizona’s immigration law. It looks like the administration’s lawyer had another bad day. According to The Washington Times, he appeared to have trouble with even the liberal justices.

Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. said the federal government has limited resources and should have the right to determine the extent of calls it gets about possible illegal immigrants.

“These decisions have to be made at the national level,” he said.

But even Democratic-appointed justices were uncertain of that.

“I’m terribly confused by your answer,” said Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who went on to say that the federal government can always decline to pick up illegal immigrants when Arizona officials call.

The Obama administration was on its firmest ground when it argued Arizona should not be allowed to impose state penalties such as jail time against illegal immigrants who try to seek jobs. (Read More)

Democrats must believe the administration isn’t going to prevail in court, because they’re already working on Plan B, headed up by Senator Chuck (You) Schumer.

The Wall Street Journal had more:

On the high court, even justices in the liberal wing—including the nation’s first Hispanic justice, Sonia Sotomayor—indicated that Arizona had strong arguments for its authority to require immigration-status checks for people lawfully stopped by police.

Justice Sotomayor and others sharply questioned the government’s lawyer, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who conceded it was acceptable for local police to check immigration status on an ad hoc basis, but said the state couldn’t adopt a rule requiring such checks. The justices said they couldn’t understand the legal distinction between those two scenarios.

“You can see it’s not selling very well,” Justice Sotomayor said to Mr. Verrilli.

Some parts of the Arizona law do seem in question, according to those watching the Justices, particularly the sections in which the state imposes greater penalties for being in the state illegally than the federal law has for being in the country illegally.

Mr Verrilli’s performance didn’t exactly win him much praise when he was defending the health care reform act, either. Mother Jones magazine called him “flailing” and poorly prepared, but he was in the position of having to defend an unprecedented extension of federal power.

Of course, even when you have a poor position, good lawyers are expected to be able to argue it well. Mr Verrilli might be looking for a new position soon.


  1. Mr. Verrilli is 0-2 on his arguments as Court observers see it. But, like in any business, when you are handed a pile of crap, the best you can do is try not to step in it. The first thing trial lawyers learn is never ask a question you don’t have an answer you wish to solicit from the other side. It appears the SCOTUS already knew the answers that Verrilli was unprepared to give.

    The best example I ever saw of not knowing the answer was at a Board of Contract Appeals hearing where our lawyer asked the witness who prepared the estimate. The witness answered Mr. Smith did. Our lawyer asked why Mr. Smith wasn’t there testifying. The witness said it was because he was dead. Our lawyer did a quick 180 and looked at me with a “Now What” question on his face. I gave him the “I dunno look”. Then he turned back to the witness and said, “No more questions your honor.” Then we went out for lunch and settled the claim.

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