While it may be several months – or longer – before President-elect Barack Obama has an opportunity to fill a seat on the Supreme Court, his administration could still have an immediate impact at the high court, reports USA Today. One of Obama’s early appointments after he takes office is likely to be a new U.S. solicitor general, the government’s top lawyer before the court. Obama also will soon have to decide whether to alter strategy on a swath of cases at all levels of the judiciary, including on Guantanamo detainees, environmental standards and health and safety regulation. The solicitor general would play a key role in those decisions.
The post has been held by prominent lawyers such as Thurgood Marshall (named by President Lyndon Johnson) and Robert Bork (President Nixon). Unlike justices, who are appointed for life, the solicitor general serves for four years or less during the president’s term. A vacancy on the bench may arise by next summer. Five of the nine justices are 70 or older, and John Paul Stevens is 88. In recent decades, retiring justices generally have waited until the end of a court term, around June, to reveal their intentions. Dubbed “the 10th justice,” because of his close relationship to the court, the solicitor general is involved in about two-thirds of the court’s cases and significantly shapes its docket. He often will weigh in when the government is not a party in a case, and the court routinely asks that office for advice on whether to take a pending appeal.