Reigning Supreme: The Lawyers Behind the Year's Biggest Supreme Court Cases

From “Obamacare” to immigration, it’s been a dramatic term for the Supreme Court.

By: Marisa M. Kashino

The Supreme Court recently wrapped up a monumental term, and the lawyers at the helm of the year’s highest-profile cases were, of course, solicitor general Donald Verrilli and conservative wunderkind Paul Clement. But they were in good company. Here’s a look at the stars of the term.

Paul Clement
In both the Arizona and health-care cases, the soft-spoken Verrilli faced off against Clement, widely considered by his peers to be one of the most skilled oral advocates of the Supreme Court bar. Though he didn’t win either case, Clement—solicitor general during the George W. Bush administration and now a partner at Bancroft—has cemented his position as the Republican Party’s preeminent lawyer.

Patricia Millett
The head of Akin Gump’s Supreme Court practice delivered her 31st argument before the justices, making her the only woman in history to log that many at the high court. She broke the record—previously held by Arnold & Porter’s Lisa Blatt—in April, in a case concerning government land intended to be used for an Indian tribe’s casino. Millett lost the case 8-1 but won a place in history.

Carter Phillips
No lawyer currently in private practice has argued more times at the Supreme Court than Phillips, and he had his best term yet. He hit two milestones in March when he argued his 75th case before the justices and on the same day moved for the admission of his daughter, Latham & Watkins associate Jessica Phillips, into the Supreme Court Bar. “It doesn’t get any better than that,” says Phillips. “It did make the 75th argument kind of anticlimactic.” Phillips hit argument number 76 later in the term.

Tom Goldstein
Though Goldstein argued two cases at the high court, it wasn’t his work as a lawyer that made this such an exceptional term for him. The Goldstein & Russell name partner’s other enterprise—SCOTUSblog, a website devoted to coverage of the court—had a record-shattering term, thanks to the health-care reform case. Goldstein and his team became the go-to source during decision days, live-blogging the action as the justices announced their rulings. On the June morning the health-care ruling came down, roughly a million readers tuned in to the site’s live feed. By day’s end, SCOTUSblog had 5.3 million visits. “This certainly isn’t anything we could have dreamed of,” says Goldstein, who started SCOTUSblog with his wife, lawyer Amy Howe, a decade ago.

Donald Verrilli
Though President Obama’s solicitor general faced withering reviews from many court-watchers following his shaky performance in the case to determine whether the Affordable Care Act was constitutional, he came out on top when the justices voted 5-4 to uphold Obama’s health-care reform bill. And in the court’s other blockbuster case, over Arizona’s controversial immigration law, he also emerged largely victorious. What could have been a disastrous term for Verrilli turned out to be a landmark year in his career.

This article appears in the August 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.