& A with Brook Hopkins ’02
Hopkins ’02, a 2007 graduate
of Harvard Law School, has worked from both vantages of jurisdiction
in her roles as Special Assistant to the Solicitor
General, and as law clerk to U.S.
Supreme Court justices David Souter and Steven Breyer.
Hopkins will visit Smith on
Thursday, Sept. 16, to deliver the Constitution Day lecture,
at 4:30 p.m. in Neilson Browsing Room, on "The Nation in
Court: Reflections on the Office of the Solicitor General."
Her talk will address the unique role of the Solicitor General,
which argues cases before the Supreme Court, representing
the federal government. She will discuss three cases that
were argued before the Supreme Court last term, when she
served as Special Assistant to (then-) Solicitor General
Hopkins recently discussed
her career and her upcoming lecture with the Gate.
The Gate: Can you briefly describe
the unique role of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG)?
Brook Hopkins: The OSG is unusual
in that it is an executive branch office and the Solicitor
General reports to the U.S. Attorney General, but it owes important
duties to the other branches of government as well. With respect
to the legislative branch, except in rare cases, the Solicitor
General is responsible for defending the constitutionality
of all statutes passed by Congress. With respect to the judicial
branch, the Solicitor General is more than just an advocate
in the Supreme Court. She is often asked to provide guidance
to the Court in cases in which the United States is not a party,
and has a special obligation to respect the Court's precedents
and to conduct her advocacy with complete candor.
Gate: How does the OSG select
cases to be argued to the Supreme Court?
BH: Given the large number of
cases in the courts of appeals that involve the United States,
the task of selecting the ones that should be taken to the
Supreme Court is challenging. The Office focuses on cases that
implicate splits among the circuit courts, cases in which a
lower court has struck down a federal statute as unconstitutional,
and cases that involve important federal issues. The SG also
weighs in on cases in which the United States is not a party
by filing a brief as amicus curiae (friend of the court). The
SG files an amicus brief when a case implicates the interests
of the United States and when the Court specifically requests
that she do so.
Gate: What are some examples of
cases you were involved in as Specail Assistant to Solicitor
BH: I was involved in every case
that Elena Kagan argued. That included Citizens United v. FEC
(campaign finance); Salazar v. Buono (cross on federal land);
Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (material aid to terrorists);
and others. I helped her prepare for oral argument by participating
in moot courts and conducting factual and legal research.
Gate: How have you had to shift
your approach to law in crossing over from an advocacy role
to the Supreme Court to a participant in the court?
BH: An advocate's approach to
a case is very different from a judge's approach. At the OSG,
I was working as an advocate on one side of a case. All of
the work that I did went toward strengthening the arguments
on our side of the case and pointing out the weaknesses of
the other side. At the Supreme Court, I am working for a justice
who has to decide those cases. My job is to help him think
about all of the angles in a case and the strengths and weaknesses
of each side's arguments. The goal is to figure out the best
possible outcome of a case, not just the outcome that most
benefits my client. That said, I use many of the same legal
tools in both jobs.
Gate: What advice might you offer
current Smith students who aspire to a career in law?
BH: There are some great jobs
out there for attorneys, but there are also a lot of not-so-great
ones. That's why I think it's important to think hard about
exactly what kind of legal career you want to have before you
decide to go to law school and to actively pursue that goal
while you're there. I would also advise you to seek out mentors
to help you navigate law school and the legal profession.
time at Smith has definitely influenced my career path. Smith
nurtured my commitment to public service. I took advantage
of a number of internship opportunities that helped clarify
what kind of law I wanted to pursue. I gained leadership and
networking skills and became good at advocating for myself.
I think Smith also helped me develop a little bit of feistiness,
which has served me well in this intensely competitive profession.