Reagan Administration Criticized for Politicizing Office of Solicitor General

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NBC Nightly News
Tom Brokaw/Carl Stern
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Video News Report
NBCUniversal Media, LLC.
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The Solicitor General is the lawyer who speaks to the Supreme Court as the voice of the U.S. government. NBC's Carl Stern looks at the office and the growing criticism that President Ronald Reagan is using it to advance his political ideology.



"Reagan Administration Criticized for Politicizing Office of Solicitor General ." Carl Stern, correspondent. NBC Nightly News. NBCUniversal Media. 21 Oct. 1985. NBC Learn. Web. 16 April 2015.


Stern, C. (Reporter), & Brokaw, T. (Anchor). (1985, October 21). Reagan Administration Criticized for Politicizing Office of Solicitor General . [Television series episode]. NBC Nightly News. Retrieved from


"Reagan Administration Criticized for Politicizing Office of Solicitor General " NBC Nightly News, New York, NY: NBC Universal, 10/21/1985. Accessed Thu Apr 16 2015 from NBC Learn:


Reagan Administration Criticized for Politicizing Office of Solicitor General

TOM BROKAW, anchor:

President Reagan charged today that the courts have gone too far in interfering with other branches of government. And he said he is going to appoint judges committed to what he called judicial restraint. He said he doesn’t believe the court should be used to promote social experiments or political action. Sometime this week the Senate is expected to confirm the appointment of Charles Fried, the president’s choice for Solicitor General of the United States. And tonight’s special segment is on that Office of Solicitor General, the lawyer who speaks to the Supreme Court as the voice of the United States government. Despite what Mr. Reagan said today about restraint, Carl Stern reports that his critics say he is using the Solicitor General as a political mouthpiece.

CARL STERN, reporting:

If confirmed, Charles Fried will become Solicitor General of the United States, the advocate for the government in the US Supreme Court. Traditionally the Solicitor did not simply reflect the administrations political desires. He is thought to owe as much loyalty to the Court as to the president; the Court seeks his advice in hundreds of cases.

But now some former solicitors general fear the Reagan Administration is turning that post into little more than a political mouthpiece for the president.

WADE McCREE: Oh it upsets me very much

ERWIN GRISWOLD: Well I’m a little distressed and I’m considerably concerned

ARCHIBALD COX: I think the damage to the country would be the weakening of what I could put only in the phrase the ideal of the role of love.

STERN: Although each president chooses his own solicitor general, the office has not been used to advance highly controversial political positions. But recently in pending abortion cases the solicitors’ office dropped its usual restraint. It echoed the White House call for sweeping away the landmark ruling that women have a right to abortion. In another case involving the weakening of black voting power, the solicitor’s contention that the voting rights law didn’t apply was considered so misleading that even the Republican Senate Leader Robert Dole joined in a brief saying the solicitor was wrong. Supreme Court expert Lawrence Tribe said the administration is using the solicitor’s office, less to win cases, then to promote the right wing ideology of the president and Attorney General Meese.

LAWRENCE TRIBE, Supreme Court expert: The Solicitor General now is hardly a friend of the court; he is a friend of the administration and of Ed Meice.

STERN: Archibald Cox was solicitor general in the Kennedy Administration. Wade McCree was President Carter’s solicitor general.

McCREE: The briefs don’t appear to be a dispassioned as objective as traditionally they are.

COX: I think the choice of words runs ahead of, beyond sober reason.

STERN: Too political to polemical?

COX: Polemical I guess. Stratton.

STERN: The most dramatic example of political pressure was in the Bob Jones University case. It came early in the Reagan presidency when the administration had the solicitor’s office switch sides and refused defend a civil rights law in which the schools tax exemption was taken away. The Supreme Court had to appoint an outside lawyer to defend the law, which the justices overwhelmingly upheld. The man who was the Reagan administrations first solicitor general, Rex Lee says some pressure from the White House is to be expected.

REX LEE: There is no question that there are constant forces at work attempting to get the solicitor general to take particular positions in particular cases, and it would be too bad if there weren’t because that’s part of the operation of government in that particular important component of government.

STERN: But the man, who was dean of the Harvard Law School, and solicitor general under Presidents Johnson and Nixon, says the Reagan people are pressing too much.

GRISWOLD: My own thought would be that the administration intervenes too often a, for the good of the law and b, for its own good.

STERN: In his confirmation hearings, Fried indicated he would not seek extreme ideological changes a solicitor general yet that special relationship the solicitors had in the Supreme Court, their weight and influence has already been eroded, and there are many who fear that tradition is in danger of being lost. Carl Stern, NBC News, Washington.