Edwin Kneedler has argued more than 100 cases before the Supreme Court, an extraordinary feat:
Several years ago, Justice Department lawyer Edwin S. Kneedler argued his 100th case before the U.S. Supreme Court, a benchmark shared by fewer than 10 attorneys in U.S. history.
In a rare departure from court routine, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. congratulated Kneedler from the bench. Kneedler quietly thanked him, said he was honored and walked away, according to lawyers who were there.
Now, Kneedler is bringing the same subdued style to a case that has attracted loud political voices from all sides: the Obama administration’s lawsuit over Arizona’s new immigration law. As the government’s lead attorney, the deputy solicitor general must fight a law that President Obama has strongly condemned while not alienating Arizonans who fervently support it, all in the context of a national struggle over the divisive issue of immigration.
Kneedler has won the first battle: A federal judge in Arizona this week granted his request for a preliminary injunction blocking the most controversial portions of the law, which allows police to question those they suspect of being illegal immigrants. Arizona has appealed, and on Friday night an appellate court set arguments for November, rejecting a state request for an expedited hearing.
Kneedler is widely described as apolitical. His first government boss, when he joined the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in 1975, was Antonin Scalia, the future conservative Supreme Court justice.
In the insular world of Washington Supreme Court advocates, few are willing to criticize colleagues. But former deputy solicitor general Lawrence G. Wallace, who helped hire Kneedler into the solicitor general’s office in 1979, said Kneedler did make some enemies in the government over the years.
Wallace said Kneedler did not hesitate to argue with high-level political appointees from across the government who were trying to force a particular legal outcome.