During a distinguished 38-year career at the Department of Justice, Edwin Kneedler has argued 125 cases before the Supreme Court, more than any other attorney currently practicing law, and has represented the government’s interests in matters ranging from immigration and heath care to affirmative action and free speech.
As a top career deputy in the Solicitor General’s Office, Kneedler has lent his immense experience, institutional knowledge and credibility to help craft the government’s positions in hundreds of additional cases before the nation’s highest court, assisted attorneys preparing legal briefs and arguments, and served as the conscience and moral compass of the office.
“Ed is the living embodiment of the values that everyone in this office aspires to achieve,” said Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, Jr. “He is the essence of integrity, and every decision he makes is based on the long-term interests of the United States. He never bows to expediency or political considerations.”
The Office of the Solicitor General, part of the Justice Department, supervises and conducts the government’s litigation before the Supreme Court, determining which cases to appeal to the high court and the stance the government will take. Since attorneys for the office appear regularly before the court, they have a special obligation to not only advocate their positions, but also to be forthright in acknowledging counterarguments and flaws, and maintaining the full respect of the justices.
Paul Clement, who served as solicitor general under President George W. Bush, said the members of the Supreme Court keenly trust and respect Kneedler, and know he will be candid.
“They know they are getting it straight when they are getting it from Ed Kneedler,” said Clement. “They respect the fact that he will explain what the government is doing and why he thinks it is right. But he won’t sugarcoat it or cut corners. He will zealously represent his client, but he will not endanger his relationship or the long-term interests of the Solicitor General with the court.”
Kneedler’s first job at the Justice Department was with the Office of Legal Counsel in 1975, which was then headed by current Justice Antonin Scalia. In 1979, during the Carter administration, Mr. Kneedler joined the Office of Solicitor General and has been one of four career deputy solicitor generals for the past 21 years, having worked in that office with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Elena Kagan and Samuel Alito.
His areas of responsibility are broad and diverse, and include administrative law and civil suits challenging agency decisions and programs, immigration, foreign affairs, Indian law, and public lands and water law. He has handled matters involving the separation of powers, the legislative veto and the First Amendment.
Kneedler supervised the briefing on all the issues in the 2012 Supreme Court case regarding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, and argued a portion of the health insurance case before the high court. He also presented the oral arguments in the lower courts in an Arizona immigration case, and supervised the government’s Supreme Court legal briefing that led to successfully blocking a number of provisions of the state law allowing police to take enforcement measures against people they suspected of being illegal immigrants.
Kneedler has been involved in cases regarding where terror suspects should be tried and whether white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., were unfairly denied promotions because of their race. A number of years ago, he argued the government’s position on whether young Cuban refugee Elian Gonzalez should return to his father, and he worked on the legal briefs about whether Paula Jones’s sexual harassment case against President Clinton should proceed while Clinton was still in office.
Ian Gershengorn, the principal deputy solicitor general, said Kneedler is a highly effective and well-prepared advocate in court and a mentor within the office, supervising the preparation of countless briefs and serving as a guide to younger attorneys. He said Kneedler does not simply give a quick read and check a box, but rather is “intensively involved in the framing of the arguments in each case, and he personally and significantly contributes to the final written product.”
Sri Srinivasan, a former colleague in the Solicitor General’s Office and now a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, said Kneedler also has a tremendous ability to navigate competing perspectives and reconcile tensions and disputes during internal deliberations on the positions the government should take before the Supreme Court.
“Everyone knows that Ed will provide a completely objective analysis of the legal issues and provide an objective assessment of the risks and benefits of choosing one strategy over another,” said Srinivasan. “He is a very strong team player, and people naturally look to him for his insights.”
Kneedler, known to work long hours and weekends and have an encyclopedic knowledge of the law, said he was motivated to go to law school after serving as a VISTA Volunteer and watching attorneys help migrant workers who were being exploited. He jumped at the opportunity to work at the Justice Department and to be involved in public service.
“I am a believer in the role of government, and as a lawyer for the government, my job is to provide the best representation I can, to tell my client’s story fairly and explain the laws they administer, and to uphold the processes and achievements of our constitutional system,” said Kneedler.