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Compiled by Eric Weld   Date: 9/13/10 Bookmark and Share

Q & A with Brook Hopkins ’02

Former Assistant to Elena Kagan to Speak on "The Nation in Court"

Brook 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 Elena Kagan.

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 General Kagan?

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.

My 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.

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