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Obama Administration Backs Embattled Lawyer in Health-Care Case

The Obama administration said it has full confidence in U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli after he was challenged by Supreme Court justices during his defense of the president’s health-care law.

“Mr. Verrilli is an extraordinarily talented advocate who possesses a sharp mind, keen judgment, and unquestionable integrity,” White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler said in an e-mail. “He ably and skillfully represented the United States before the Supreme Court yesterday, and we have every confidence that he will continue to do so.”

Ruemmler’s statement was reported earlier by Politico.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy repeatedly interrupting Verrilli yesterday during the second of three days of arguments in the case brought by opponents of the law.

Roberts directed three-quarters of his approximately 20 questions to Verrilli on a provision of the law requiring Americans obtain health insurance or pay a penalty.

In several instances, the court’s Democratic appointees, including Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, jumped in to bolster Verrilli’s case.

Tom Goldstein, an appellate lawyer whose Scotusblog website tracks the court, said after “one stumble out of the gate” at the beginning of his argument, Verrilli withstood intense questioning from the four Republican-appointed justices.

‘Genuinely’ Trusted

Verrilli “brought to the argument his status as really one of the small handful of lawyers the Justices genuinely trust after decades of hearing him argue,” Goldstein wrote. Bloomberg Law sponsors the blog.

Verrilli, as a private attorney and in government, argued before the Supreme Court 17 times prior to this week’s health-care case, according to Tracy Schmaler, a Justice Department spokeswoman.

President Barack Obama nominated Verrilli, 54, as solicitor general in January 2011 to succeed Elena Kagan, who the president named as associate justice of the Supreme Court.

He previously served as deputy counsel to Obama and as associate deputy attorney general in the Justice Department.

Verrilli is a graduate of Columbia Law School, where he served as editor-in-chief of the Columbia Law Review. He was a law clerk to Justice William Brennan and taught constitutional law as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center for more than 15 years.

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