What happens when no one wants to argue a case in front of SCOTUS? The Justices Appoint Counsel. Is this Kosher?

October 8th, 2009

From the Columbus Dispatch (H/T How Appealing):

When the justices agreed to hear the case, they discovered that nobody would defend the appeals court ruling.So in April, an official of the Supreme Court called Merritt, a professor at Ohio State since 1995. We need a lawyer to argue a case before the justices, the official said. Can you give us an answer in the next day or two?

She quickly read through the appeals court ruling and told herself, “I can argue this case.”

This is kind of an odd move from the Supreme Court. Even if no one is willing to argue the case, the Justices, sua sponte, select counsel to argue and brief the case. I suppose the Justices have a vested interest in making sure that a case granted cert is effectively argued on both sides. But isn’t this kinda meddling? If the party below does not want to contest the case, why should the Justices get involved. Is there even a live case or controversy at this point? Is this Kosher?