The Role of State Solicitors General [POLICYbrief]
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The Role of State Solicitors General [POLICYbrief]


State solicitor generals typically are chief appellate advocates for their states. That involves state agencies, it involves
defending state laws. Essentially, we do represent the state, but
as the state has been sued as a specific entity or person. The decision to have a solicitor general or
not depends upon the elected public officials in that state. In many states, the solicitor general office
was created by, uh, the legislature, like in Wisconsin, and in some states, it was just created as
a position appointed by the attorney general without legislative author- authorization. In many places, it’s a newer development. It’s sort of coincident with the rise of appellate
practice as an acknowledged specialty. In order to protect the interests of your
states and their citizens, it’s important to have an office of lawyers dedicated specifically
to appellate litigation, core experts in that field. The duties of an SG will vary state by state,
and that’s typically defined by the attorney general, or maybe the attorney general in
conjunction with the solicitor general. And, so there’s no standard set of duties. Um, in Georgia, the SG wears a lot of hats. The SG is actually reviewing, or having some
strategic partnership on almost every appellate brief that comes through the office, both
on the state level, and on the federal level. In different states, the job is composed a
little bit differently, but in Arizona, we oversee both criminal and civil appeals through
the SG’s office. Some of the large cases that we’ve handled
in the state of Wisconsin’s solicitor general office involve defenses of the laws the Wisconsin
legislature has enacted. The attorney general takes it very seriously,
that’s he sworn a duty to defend the state’s laws, and so we- we defend them as much as
we can, and that can be a challenge sometimes, it- it certainly involves sometimes taking
positions that are not the same I would take as a- as a voter, or as a legislator. The work of, uh, pushing back against federal
overreach has become sort of a hallmark of state SG offices now. So, when states band together in litigation
to- to fight some kind of cause together, or to present some kind of case together,
those typically are managed by the solicitor general’s unit. And an area where that’s happened a lot recently
is in the area of federal overreach. That’s a new role practiced by both blue and
red states alike now, that has sort of elevated state attorneys general in their- in their
role as a check against the federal government. I’m basically a professional sore loser. The resolution on some of those federal regulation
questions could affect dozens, if- if not all of the states. The number of states with SGs is growing. There are a lot more of us now then there-
then there once were. It’s good, because it gives, uh, the counsel
that states need in order to uphold the- the work of democracy. You spend your whole day running around doing
really fun, and exciting, and engaging things, but it’s almost never the thing you thought
you were doing when you showed up for work that day. So, I think that’s one of the more fun things
about the job, but it’s also something that makes it challenging. This is the nerdiest occupation in the world. It is a gift if you love the law, if you really
love to do brief writing, and legal research, and sort of build out arguments that are based
on the law. I think it is increasingly common for young
attorneys to want to go back home, or to go to other states, and to serve the states,
whether it’s their home state or a different state. And, in that way, the evolution of the SG’s
office has been a great thing. Because, I think it’s encouraged young attorneys
to go back home, and to enter into public service. It is amazing to me to think that we have
put together a network of state-level civil servants, who are so interested in federalism. State solicitor generals do a lot of exciting
work, uh, in- in courts of appeals, at both the state and the federal level, and they
often provide a great opportunity for younger lawyers to get experience in courtrooms, especially
in appellate courtrooms, which may not be available in other- in other jobs, especially
in the private sector. I think it’s inspiring to see how many people
take that so seriously, that they’re willing to move across the country, take pay cuts,
and- and really devote some serious time and- and energy to putting together briefs, and-
and arguments on these important issues.

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