Making the government’s case before the nation’s highest court

Leondra Kruger, Assistant to the U.S. Solicitor General

Leondra Kruger, Assistant to the U.S. Solicitor General

As the eyes of the nation focus firmly on 1 First Street, NE, the site of the U.S. Supreme Court, much attention will be paid to what is said by the “nine wise souls,” who serve as justices on the Supreme Court. Many will also discuss the intent of the President and of Congress as to how the law was drafted, and in accessing why the constitutionality of the health care reform law was called into question. Some will focus on the arguments of the advocates who argued both sides of the issue in an uncharacteristic three days of oral arguments back in March, advocates like Leondra Kruger.

While Kruger didn’t argue the case before the high court, it was instead her boss Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, she undoubtedly had a hand in crafting the arguments he used during three days of hearings. The Affordable Care Act often referred to us ACA, the health care reform law, or as critics have dubbed it Obamacare, is a complex law. The three days of hearings were designed to allow the justices to consider the law in part, and as the sum of its different parts. Kruger’s name appeared on the briefs related to several pieces of the law Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida, Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida, and Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services. Those briefs discussed whether the Anti-Injunction Act blocks the Supreme Court from even considering a challenge to the health care law. Next, if there can be a mandate as to a minimum amount of insurance coverage an individual must carry. Lastly, if the expansion of Medicaid forced states to accept the law, or else risk losing large amounts of federal funding. The larger remaining question is if any part of the law is ruled unconstitutional, can it survive, or is the entire law invalid.

Kruger’s work on the briefs helped inform the justices of the administration’s positions even before attorneys went into the courtroom and argued the case. Kruger certainly lends a certain credibility to any conversation about matters likely to go before the court. She herself has argued more than a dozen cases before the high court between 2007 and this year according to Oyez, which keeps track of Supreme Court oral arguments and decisions. At one point she also held the role of Principal Deputy Solicitor General at the U.S. Justice Department, a role discussed in The National Law Journal profile which recognized her as one of “The Minority 40 Under 40,” forty attorneys of color worth watching. Even before working in the Solicitor General’s office she clerked for Justice John Paul Stevens and before that for Judge David Tatel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Her notoriety may increase as she racks up even more cases, she recently made a list of the Top Female Advocates who frequently appear before the U.S. Supreme Court. She is the only African-American on the list. Already her considerable experience is seen as a gateway to a profitable role in the Supreme Court and appellate practice of a top law firm, or as the road to a judgeship as was suggested by a commenter on one legal blog.

One thing is for sure Leondra Kruger has made a name for herself, and holds a distinct role as an African-American litigator who feels right at home representing the United States in the highest court in the land.

-Christopher Nelson

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