Widgets Magazine


Prosecuting on behalf of injustice: Why Charles Cooper cannot be our next solicitor general

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ confirmation process was marred with controversy from the outset. Shortly after he was nominated, the nation received a short, illustrative briefing on Session’s horrendous race relations record.

Sessions’ past associates claimed that he expressed support for the Ku Klux Klan, called the ACLU “un-American,” and referred to all of his male African-American co-workers as “boy.” These charges were so serious that Sessions’ Senate colleagues apparently thought he was too racist to be a federal judge when he was nominated for a spot 31 years ago.  

So what changed between 1986 and 2017? Sessions’ beliefs certainly did not. Nonetheless, Trump tapped Sessions to be his attorney general – prompting liberal interest groups to coalesce in opposition to Sessions’ candidacy.

NAACP leaders held sit-ins at Sessions’ Washington office. Over 100 distinguished law professors around the nation signed a petition claiming that Sessions was morally unfit for the job. And before she was gagged, Elizabeth Warren even read a letter from Coretta Scott King attesting to Sessions’ racist habits. But all of this resistance was to no avail.    

Several civil rights, climate change and consumer protection groups on campus may be disheartened by Sessions’ confirmation. I submit, though, that Sessions is simply a Trojan horse, albeit a bigoted one.

The attorney general delegates most of his legal responsibilities to a few subordinates. Someone other than Jeff Sessions will manage federal lawsuits, authorize federal agencies to begin lawsuits and decide which policies the federal government does (and does not) defend, and how.

This individual is the solicitor general. She is important because her control over how and when to present cases can have a huge policy impact. If you are skeptical, consider the fact that Obama’s solicitor general may well have been responsible for saving the Affordable Care Act and undermining same-sex marriage bans across the country. Since the solicitor general makes hundreds of decisions every month, it is important that she has a sound moral compass because in close situations many choices will be based on gut reactions.

Charles Cooper and George Conway are reported to be the lead contenders for the job. Cooper is, well, a bigot. He has supported tax-exempt status for private schools that refuse to admit students of color, was the lead lawyer defending California’s Prop. 8, and believes that employers should be able to reject job applicants solely because they have AIDS. On the other hand, Conway, a well-respected corporate lawyer, has no formal government experience or paper trial and seems less reactionary – but compared to Cooper, who would not?

Many Stanford students may feel that a choice between Cooper and Conway is like a choice between arsenic and mustard gas, but at the very least Conway appears to be erudite and socially tolerant. Moreover, if confirmed, Conway, who is Filipino, would be the first Asian-American to occupy the spot. Diversity matters. Conway, at the very least, might make his colleagues think twice before embracing racist policies.

Under Trump, the arc of the moral universe may bend at a slower rate than usual. But, one thing is certain. It will bend in the wrong direction if Charles Cooper becomes the government’s primary law officer.


Contact Habib Olapade at holapade ‘at’ stanford.edu.