Ken Paxton names administrative law expert with conservative bona fides Texas’ solicitor general

Aaron Nielson has been appointed Solicitor General by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
Aaron Nielson has been appointed Solicitor General by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Credit: Brigham Young University
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Aaron Nielson, a law professor at Brigham Young University, will be Texas’ new solicitor general, leading the state’s most high-profile legal battles all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Nielson, who is taking a one-year leave of absence from BYU, enters the embattled agency at a difficult moment. He is replacing Judd Stone, who took temporary leave to represent Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in his impeachment trial, and then resigned to start his own law firm.

The Texas Senate acquitted Paxton, but the tumult of the trial, as well as the allegations that led to it, has dimmed the agency’s reputation as a leading light in the conservative legal revolution.

But Texas still remains one of the most aggressive litigants against the Biden administration. The solicitor general handles the state’s appellate cases, arguing before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans and the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as the state’s high court. Since it was created in 1998, the office has attracted the best and the brightest of the conservative legal elite from across the country.

Past solicitors general include U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, 5th Circuit Judge James Ho and conservative lawyer Jonathan Mitchell, best known for designing Texas’ novel ban on abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy. Lawyers who got their start in that office now sit behind the bench in courtrooms across Texas and the country.

Nielson’s purebred conservative legal pedigree is similar to his predecessors. He attended Harvard Law School, and clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and 5th Circuit Judge Jerry Smith.

Nielson also clerked for Judge Janice Rogers Brown, a conservative George W. Bush appointee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Unlike the other circuit courts, which hear cases based on geography, the D.C. Circuit focuses mostly on litigation related to federal agencies.

Texas frequently visits the D.C. Circuit in its crusade against the “administrative state,” a conservative term for federal agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, and the regulations they implement.

Fittingly, Texas’ new solicitor general is “one of the nation’s foremost experts on the Administrative Procedure Act,” according to a press release announcing his hiring. He served as a committee chair for the federal Administrative Conference of the United States and has served on the American Bar Association’s administrative law and regulatory practice section.

Nielson is also a visiting fellow at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, an influential institution in conservative circles, and is active in the Federalist Society. The State Bar website does not show Nielson as licensed to practice in Texas.

“[Nielson’s] talent and expertise are virtually unmatched, earning him national renown in the legal community,” Paxton said in a statement. “He will be a tremendous asset to our agency and to our state’s appellate leadership on the major legal questions of our era.”

Nielson will inherit a caseload that reflects the outsized influence of Texas’ Office of the Solicitor General. Texas is currently involved in legal challenges involving abortion, book bans, immigration, environmental regulations, LGBT rights and health care, among other hot-button issues.

At least some of these challenges are expected to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2020, Nielson was appointed by the high court to argue Collins v. Yellen, a case involving the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

“It is my great honor to serve the state of Texas as Solicitor General,” Nielson said in a statement. “I look forward to working alongside the team Attorney General Paxton has assembled and to leading and learning from the world-class lawyers in the Solicitor General Division that represent Texas so well in our nation’s appellate courts.”