Signals from a Politicized Bar: The Solicitor General as a Direct Litigant before the U.S. Supreme Court

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Department 1

Political Science


In its dealings with the U.S. Supreme Court, the solicitor general’s office enjoys remarkable success. Previous accounts of the solicitor general advantage roundly explain the phenomenon as a function of the office being a source of reliable legal information to Supreme Court justices. I demonstrate, however, that macro-level analysis—the office’s overall winning percentage—misses an intricate dynamic between policy-minded justices and the executive agency. Examining every case between 1961 and 2007 in which the solicitor general’s office represented the United States before the Supreme Court, I demonstrate that “the solicitor general advantage” is present but contingent on justice-level ideological congruence. Justices who are ideologically opposed to the incumbent president treat the solicitor general’s office as an ordinary litigant, affording it no deferential treatment. Notably, adversarial voting—that is, voting behavior when faced with a political opponent—is heightened when the solicitor general’s office appears before the Court as petitioner, whereas ideological influences are nonexistent when the office appears as respondent.



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This article is available on the publisher's website: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10602-018-09271-1#enumeration

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