Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who serves as the Obama administration’s top lawyer in Supreme Court cases, will step down on June 24.
Verrilli’s five-year term as solicitor general is one of the longest in history, and easily the longest in recent memory. It was also an unusually prominent run, as Verrilli argued several landmark cases before the Supreme Court. As solicitor general, Verrilli argued the winning side in defending the Affordable Care Act, challenging a harsh Arizona immigration law, and making marriage equality the law of the land.
Those victories came despite widely panned performances in court. The mustachioed Verrilli was especially derided for his defense of the Affordable Care Act in NFIB v. Sebelius, the 2012 case that was the first and gravest threat to Obamacare. Legal experts initially dismissed the challenge as fanciful, but it made its way through the courts to the Supreme Court. As solicitor general, it was Verrilli’s job to defend the law against a challenge argued by Paul Clement, a conservative widely considered one of the nation’s best litigators.
After oral arguments, it seemed that the Cinderella challenge might succeed. Commentators viewed the government’s defense as meandering, bumbling, and inarticulate. “Obama's Lawyer Had A Meltdown Just 25 Seconds Into His Supreme Court Argument Today,” Business Insider hooted. “Donald Verrilli Makes the Worst Supreme Court Argument of All Time,” groaned Kevin Drum, while his colleague Adam Serwer speculated it was “one of the most spectacular flameouts in the history of the court.” Most famously, Jeffrey Toobin of CNN and The New Yorker declared, “This still looks like a train wreck for the Obama Administration, and it may also be a plane wreck. This entire law is now in serious trouble.” (Other analysts were more measured.)