Obama picks RIAA lawyer to replace Kagan as solicitor general
President Barack Obama announced Monday that he plans to nominate former Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) lawyer Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. as solicitor general, a position formerly held by Elena Kagan.
Verrilli currently serves as deputy counsel to the president and previously served as an associate deputy attorney general in the Department of Justice. Prior to serving for the Justice Department, he worked in the private law firm Jenner & Block for over 20 years.
During his private practice, Verrilli had been involved in a number of prominent cases involving online file-sharing and copyright infringement, arguing on behalf of the recording and entertainment industry.
He represented 28 companies that sued the file-sharing network Grokster for copyright infringement in the US Supreme Court. In 2005, Grokster was forced to shut down its site following a $50 million legal settlement with the movie studios, record labels and music publishers.
In 2007, he led a team of lawyers that sued Google for $1 billion on behalf of the entertainment giant Viacom, alleging that Google’s site YouTube was involved in massive violations of copyrighted material.
In the same year, Verrilli represented the RIAA against a Minnesota woman named Jammie Thomas, who allegedly made songs available on the file-sharing network Kazaa. During the case, he argued that “making copyrighted sound recordings available for electronic distribution on a peer-to-peer network” violated the law, “regardless of whether actual distribution has been shown.”
Along with representing the recording and entertainment industry, in 2003 Verrilli argued on the winning side of a Supreme Court ruling that overturned a convicted killer’s death penalty and unsuccessfully challenged the form of lethal injection used by many states to carry out executions, The New York Times reported.
He also signed an amicus curie brief that argued Jose Padilla, a United States citizen accused of being a terrorist, could not be classified as an “enemy combatant” and was entitled to due process.
If confirmed by the Senate, Verrilli would fill the powerful position now held by Neal Katyal, who became the acting Solicitor General after Elena Kagan was nominated to the Supreme Court. Kagan was confirmed to the post by Congress in August 2010.
The solicitor general argues on behalf of the government of the United States in the Supreme Court and is responsible for filing amicus curiae briefs in cases where the government has a significant legal interest.
Verrilli has participated in more than 100 cases before the US Supreme Court and argued 12, according to the White House. He also served as an adjunct professor of constitutional law at the Georgetown University Law Center for more than 15 years, focusing on First Amendment law.