Chuck Cooper emerges as Trump’s likely choice for solicitor general

WASHINGTON — Conservative lawyer Chuck Cooper has emerged as Donald Trump’s likely pick to be the nation’s next solicitor general, three sources say. As the nation’s top advocate, Cooper would be charged with defending legal challenges to U.S. laws and Trump’s executive orders, such as the suit against Trump’s travel ban that is currently wending its way through the courts.

Cooper is a longtime friend of Trump’s attorney general nominee, Sen. Jeff Sessions. Cooper, a fellow Alabaman, helped prepare Sessions for his confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, which was seen as a success by those in Trump’s orbit.

Sessions has decided he wants Cooper for the job, and according to one source close to the White House, Trump has agreed to let Sessions choose the solicitor general, who represents the federal government before the Supreme Court. Two other well-connected Republican lawyers who know Cooper confirm that he is Trump’s leading candidate to be solicitor general, a position sometimes referred to as “the 10th justice,” because of the influence it carries with the nine who actually sit on the Supreme Court. Both of these lawyers describe Cooper as a reliable “movement” conservative whose appointment will be comforting to elite lawyers on the right. “Chuck is right down the line on our issues,” says one of these lawyers, who asked to remain anonymous in discussing a nomination that has not yet been made public by the administration.

Though Sessions has chosen Cooper for the job, Trump could change his mind at the last moment and veto the pick. Spokesmen for the White House and the Justice Department declined to comment on the nomination. Cooper also declined to comment.

Several legal news outlets, including Above the Law, reported last month that the race was down to Cooper and George Conway, a Washington lawyer who is married to top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway.

Cooper clerked for Justice William Rehnquist before joining the Reagan-era Justice Department, around the same time Sessions became a U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. He then jumped to the White House’s Office of Legal Counsel. Later, Cooper started his own Washington law firm, Cooper & Kirk.

Cooper has argued before the Supreme Court seven times. His last appearance was in 2013, when he unsuccessfully urged the court to uphold California’s 2008 voter initiative that banned same-sex marriage in the state.

Cooper’s confirmation process could be complicated both by his 2013 defense of the same-sex marriage ban and by his 1986 argument, while in the Office of Legal Counsel, that the federal government could reject job candidates with AIDS out of fear of contagion. Also controversial will be his 1982 role as a lawyer in the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division arguing for the federal government to reverse a ban on giving tax breaks to private schools that discriminated based upon race.

Cooper said his position on same-sex marriage has evolved. He even helped plan his lesbian stepdaughter’s wedding a few years ago, which could neutralize the California case’s impact. But the 1982 Supreme Court case he argued, called Bob Jones University v. U.S., might prove to be more problematic. Cooper believed the First Amendment prevented the IRS from revoking tax exemptions from a private, religious university that barred interracial dating among its students. The Supreme Court disagreed, ruling against him 8 to 1.

Cooper, a member of the conservative legal group the Federalist Society, is an old Washington hand and is respected among lawyers in the city. He has begun the process of reshaping Trump’s Justice Department alongside Leonard Leo, another prominent Washington lawyer and the vice president of the Federalist Society.

Ted Olson, the conservative Washington lawyer who argued for same-sex marriage two years ago, told Yahoo News he believes Cooper would be a “very, very good” solicitor general. Olson, who did not know whether Cooper had received the nomination, has known Cooper since they both worked in the Reagan administration in the 1980s.

— Yahoo News Correspondent Hunter Walker contributed to this report

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