Solicitor General Donald Verrilli was ridiculed by court analysts for his March performance at oral arguments defending the Affordable Care Act.
Today, Verrilli’s reputation is restored: He and the Justice Department emerged victorious Thursday morning, as the Supreme Court upheld the healthcare law championed by President Barack Obama. The court voted 5-4 to uphold the Affordable Care Act, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the majority opinion.
This morning, CNN’s chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said he would have to “eat a bit of crow” after soundly panning Verrilli during the healthcare arguments. He previously said that Verrilli’s arguments were a “train wreck” that put the law in serious jeaopardy.
“This is a day for Don Verrilli to take an enormous amount of credit,” Toobin said.
As Solicitor General, Verrilli argued the administration’s case for retaining the law. In his previous position as a partner at law firm Jenner & Block LLP, he argued more than a dozen cases before the Supreme Court. He’s been characterized by friends and colleagues as a “perfect gentleman” and an “extraordinary lawyer” with a serious competitive streak.
His good manners, though, seemed at first to set him back on the big stage. Court watchers said he was “stumbling” and “passive” in his arguments before the high court. Indeed, a Mother Jones correspondent said the performance may go down as “one of the most spectacular flameouts in the history of the court.”
The rancorous headlines prompted White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler to take the unusual step of issuing a statement coming to Verrilli’s defense.
“He able and skillfully represented the United States before the Supreme Court yesterday and we have every confidence that he will continue to do so,” she said in the statement. ”Mr. Verrilli is an extroardinarily talented advocate who possesses a sharp mind, keen judgment and unquestionable integrity.”
The reassurance didn’t stop some members of the GOP from seizing on the opportunity to blast Verrilli. Using doctored audio from the healthcare arguments before the court, the Republican Party circulated a web advertisement declaring: “ObamaCare: It’s a tough sell.”
The 30-second spot showed Verrilli appearing to be struggling for words before the high court. He stops to take a drink of water twice in the ad. ”Maybe he’s beginning to realize something the American people already know: It’s hard to defend a law that is indefensible,” the ad intoned.
At the time, SCOTUSBlog co-founder Tom Goldstein jumped in to defend Verrilli, saying it was the “single most classless and misleading thing I’ve ever seen related to the court.”
Verrilli succeeded Elena Kagan as solicitor general after she was chosen to serve on the Supreme Court. Previously Verrilli served as Assistant Deputy Attorney General and as a deputy in the Office of White House Counsel.
Obama spoke after the SCOTUS decision on Thursday, celebrating the victory.
“Whatever the politics, today’s decision was a victory for people all over this country whose laws will be more secure because of this law and the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold it,” he said.