The White House announced late Tuesday that President Donald Trump will nominate Noel Francisco, a former Washington partner at the international law firm Jones Day, as the federal government’s top lawyer before the Supreme Court.
If confirmed by the Senate as the next solicitor general, Francisco would be charged with directing the Trump administration’s legal positions and strategy before the nation’s highest court.
As his predecessor in the Obama administration, Francisco would also likely argue all the hot-button cases that land before the justices in the next four years ― including a potential appeal over Trump’s travel ban targeting predominantly Muslim countries.
Notably, Francisco stepped aside from a related case early on because his former law firm had filed a brief opposing the president’s executive order. Presumably due to a prior conflict, he also recused himself from an important transgender rights case the Supreme Court sent back to a lower court earlier this week.
Francisco has been running the office as acting head since the start of the new administration, but Trump has reportedly been mulling other names to lead it ― including Kellyanne Conway’s husband, George Conway, and conservative litigator Chuck Cooper.
Cooper and another well-known appellate attorney, Miguel Estrada, have publicly taken themselves out of consideration for the job.
A former law clerk to the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Francisco brings with him a wealth of appellate experience. Among the high-profile cases he’s argued before the Supreme Court are Zubik v. Burwell, a religious challenge to contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and a dispute over former President Barack Obama’s power to recess-appoint members of the National Labor Relations Board.
Last year, Francisco also successfully convinced the justices to overturn the multiple convictions of Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell (Va.) for corruption charges for actions he took while in office. Federal prosecutors ultimately dropped the case against the governor, and Francisco told a National Law Journal reporter that he’d celebrate his victory by enjoying some scotch.
In his capacity as acting solicitor general, Francisco was in charge of introducing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to the Supreme Court at the start of its February session ― a formality reserved for whenever there is a new administration.
As the government’s main advocate before the high court, the solicitor general exercises a significant degree of legal independence. The justices often call on the officer to offer the government’s views on important statutory and constitutional issues affecting the whole country, and the solicitor general’s answer usually looks beyond the politics of the moment and to the broader interests of the U.S.
Other alumni of Jones Day are taking on important roles within the Trump administration. At the top of the list is White House counsel Donald McGahn, who advises the president on legal policy and has been on the spotlight for his role in the implementation of of Trump’s original travel ban as well as other controversies.
On Tuesday, the White House announced that it would be adding more lawyers to McGahn’s team, which includes four other Jones Day appointments. So far, during this administration, lawyers from the firm have gone on to work at DOJ, the Department of Agriculture, the Senate Judiciary Committee, and other areas of the federal government.