solicitor general

solicitor general. (usu. cap.) The second-highest-ranking legal officer in a government (after the attorney general); esp., the chief courtroom lawyer for the executive branch. — Abbr. SG. Pl. solicitors general.

“By [federal] law, only the Solicitor General or his designee can conduct and argue before the Supreme Court cases ‘in which the United States is interested.’ Thus, if a trial court appoints a special, independent prosecutor in order to prosecute a criminal contempt of court, that court-appointed special prosecutor cannot represent the United States in seeking Supreme Court review of any lower court decision unless the Solicitor General authorizes the filing of such a petition…. Although the Solicitor General serves at the pleasure of the President, by tradition the Solicitor General also acts with independence. Thus, if the Solicitor General does not believe in the legal validity of the arguments that the government wants presented, he will refuse to sign the brief. In close cases the Solicitor General will sign the brief but tag on a disclaimer that has become known as ‘tying a tin can.’ The disclaimer would state, for example, ‘The foregoing is presented as the position of the Internal Revenue Service.’ The justices would then know that the Solicitor General, although not withholding a legal argument, was not personally sponsoring or adopting the particular legal position.” Ronald D. Rotunda & John E. Nowak, Treatise on Constitutional Law § 2.2, at 86–88 (3d ed. 1999).

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