Verrilli on Ideological “Friction” Between the Supreme Court and the President

June 4th, 2014

In remarks of his hometown of Wilton, CT, Solicitor General Verrilli offered these apt remarks:

Mr. Verrilli acknowledged his job has had a higher profile than that of most previous solicitors general. “We’re in a very unusual place in history,” he said. “It is not usual for so many high-profile cases to come before the Supreme Court” in a short span of time. Some of those he has argued involve the Affordable Care Act, the Defense of Marriage Act and EPA rules regarding emission of gases that affect climate change.

“We’re at a time when a majority of the Supreme Court has a strong ideological perspective different from the president,” he said, adding that, “aside from the New Deal, this is probably the greatest amount of friction between the executive and judicial branches.”

I think we are not quite in 1937, but the point stands.

Also cool, Verrilli explains how he came up to speed in the Myriad gene patent case:

One of the stories Mr. Verrilli told involves some back-to-school work. In April 2013, he represented the United States before the Supreme Court in a case that asked if a human gene could be patented (Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics).

“My science education stopped when I was a sophomore at Wilton High,” he said. The court was being asked to decide if, when a human gene is extracted from a body and isolated, it can be patented. Products of nature cannot be patented, but inventions can be.

“That’s a question of science,” he told his audience. “I had no idea.”

But he had to argue the government’s side — which was opposed to the idea of a patent — and he had to understand the science.

One perk of his job, he said, is to have myriad government experts at his disposal, and Francis S. Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health — previously head of the Human Genome Project — consulted with him and then sent a team of “three genius scientists” who gave Mr. Verrilli a three-hour tutorial on genetics.

“I understood it well enough to argue the case,” he said, but “the only people who knew less about genetics than me were the nine who were deciding the case.”

He had to come up with a simple but accurate way to explain the issue, “and so we came up with a metaphor of a chicken lays an egg, which consists of a yolk, the white, and the shell.

“When you crack the egg, you separate the yolk and the white from the shell. Would you say it’s no longer a product of nature, it’s an invention?

“You take the gene out of the body. Nobody thinks the yolk would be an invention.”