Trump’s le­gal u-turns may test Supreme Court’s pa­tience

Miami Herald - - FRONT PAGE -

WASH­ING­TON — The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion may be headed for trou­ble in the Supreme Court. It has twice switched sides in im­por­tant Supreme Court cases, on work­ers’ rights and vot­ing rolls, aban­don­ing the po­si­tions of the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion for ones fa­vored by con­ser­va­tives.

Such le­gal U-turns can try the jus­tices’ pa­tience. In the Obama years, some of the testi­est ex­changes at oral ar­gu­ments in­volved changes in le­gal po­si­tions that seemed prompted by pol­i­tics. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s lawyers may now also have some ex­plain­ing to do.

The de­ci­sions to change course can­not have been made lightly, as lawyers in the so­lic­i­tor gen­eral’s of­fice, the elite unit of the Jus­tice Depart­ment that rep­re­sents the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in the Supreme Court, know that switch­ing sides comes at a cost to the of­fice’s prized rep­u­ta­tion for con­ti­nu­ity, cred­i­bil­ity and in­de­pen­dence.

Both cases in­volved the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of fed­eral statutes. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion read them to mean one thing. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion said they meant the op­po­site.

In two Supreme Court ar­gu­ments in the Obama years, jus­tices lashed out at lawyers from the so­lic­i­tor gen­eral’s of­fice for sim­i­lar shifts.

In one of them, So­lic­i­tor Gen­eral Don­ald B. Ver­rilli Jr. ac­knowl­edged in 2012 that the gov­ern­ment’s po­si­tion had changed on the ques­tion of whether U.S. courts may hear some cases con­cern­ing hu­man rights abuses in for­eign coun­tries.

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