News & Politics

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.

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

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

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.

Senior Editor

Marisa M. Kashino joined Washingtonian in 2009 and was a senior editor until 2022.