Wilton native Verrilli will step down as solicitor general

U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who grew up in Wilton, will step down from his position, according to a statement issued earlier today, June 2, by the White House.
Verrilli ascended to this position June 9, 2011, after a legal career in private practice as a litigator specializing in telecommunications, media and the First Amendment.

As solicitor general, Verrilli has argued some of the highest-profile cases of recent history before the U.S. Supreme Court. They include the Affordable Care Act and the Defense of Marriage Act, and later helped persuade the Supreme Court to extend constitutional protections for same-sex marriage. Earlier this year he defended President Obama’s executive order preventing the deportation of more than four million people who are in the U.S. illegally. A decision is expected by the end of this month.

“Thanks to his efforts, 20 million more Americans now know the security of quality, affordable health care; we’re combatting discrimination so that more women and minorities can own their piece of the American Dream; we’ve reaffirmed our commitment to ensuring that immigrants are treated fairly; and our children will now grow up in a country where everyone has the freedom to marry the person they love,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.

He described Verrilli as “a dedicated public servant who has helped our nation live up to its promise of liberty and justice for all.”

Verrilli is expected to leave his post by the end of June.

He visited Wilton Library on May 22, 2014, saying “I have not lived here since 1975, but Wilton feels like home to me.” A graduate of Wilton High School, he charmed a packed house that evening.

He explained to the crowd his position was created in 1870 for the purpose of helping the attorney general. As such, he represents the United States before the U.S. Supreme Court, “which means I represent all of you,” he said.

“It is an awesome responsibility and an awesome privilege.”

The most important part of his job, he said, is deciding what the position of the United States should be on the many cases that come before the Justice Department. “That’s what I spend most of my time on,” he said, adding that he can be overruled only by the attorney general or the president.

“Arguing cases is a very small part of the job.”

Mr. Verrilli made a point of saying he believed he benefited from an excellent education at Wilton High School, after which he went on to graduate from Yale University and Columbia School of Law. He went on to clerk for J. Skelly Wright of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and then U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr.

While in private practice, Verrilli argued a dozen cases before the Supreme Court, five of which were done pro bono for inmates facing the death penalty. These cases indirectly influenced his future career path.

“If you came out of law school in the 80s and planned a career to be solicitor general, the last thing you’d do is represent people on death row,” he said.

Nevertheless, he added, “had I not done that work I am 100% certain I would not have this job.

“The experience that made me remotely qualified came out of that work.”

It is experience, he said, that teaches someone how to be a lawyer.

Mr. Verrilli moved to Washington, D.C., in the 80s to be a law clerk, and stayed because he thought “it was a great climate to be a lawyer” and he had ideas about perhaps someday working in government.

“The next thing I know I’m 50 years old and have 20-plus years in private practice.”

When Obama was elected president, he decided to take the plunge into public service and in 2009 he was named associate U.S. deputy attorney general in the Department of Justice. In 2010 he moved to the White House as deputy counsel to the president.

“Most people — my wife, my daughter, my parents — thought I was nuts,” he said with a laugh. “But I decided it was time to do it, and it worked out pretty good.

“I did what I thought was right and I didn’t let ego get in the way.”

Near the end of his talk in Wilton, Verrilli addressed the importance of integrity to an attorney.

“One thing that is incredibly clear is that nothing matters more when you are trying to persuade people than maintaining your integrity,” he said.

“It is important the people you are trying to persuade … they need to trust you. They may not agree with you, but the minute you lose their trust, you lose it forever. When they find you’ve not told the truth, they never trust you again. When you’re an advocate, that’s the worst that can happen.

“Be scrupulous and straightforward and they will hear what you have to say.”