Solicitor General Nominee Grilled On Marriage Act The spark for the questions during Donald Verrilli's Senate confirmation hearing was President Obama's decision not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court. Republican senators noted that the tradition of the Justice Department is that the solicitor general defends laws enacted by Congress unless those laws impinge on presidential authority or no reasonable argument can be made on behalf of the law.
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Solicitor General Nominee Grilled On Marriage Act

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Solicitor General Nominee Grilled On Marriage Act

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Solicitor General Nominee Grilled On Marriage Act

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Senate Republicans expressed their anger, yesterday, over the Obama Administration's decision not to defend in court the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. This didn't happen at a hearing on the act. It was a confirmation hearing for two top Justice Department jobs that've been vacant for a very long time. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports.

NINA TOTENBERG: That didn't get him off the hook, entirely, though. Republican senators said it was crucial to know that Verrilli would act independently, as other solicitors general have done. Here, for instance, is an exchange with Utah's Senator Orrin Hatch.

ORRIN HATCH: I need a simple and clear answer to this. And I think others will need this. If you believe that reasonable arguments exist to defend a statute's constitutionality, but the attorney general or president says otherwise, will you defend that statutes or not - or resign?

DONALD VERRILLI: Senator, I would defend the statute unless instructed by my superior not to do so.

HATCH: Well, see that's not a good answer.

TOTENBERG: But Verrilli refused to be drawn into a discussion of DOMA because, as he noted, he didn't know the ins and outs of the case.

VERRILLI: Unidentified Man: No. No.

VERRILLI: No.

TOTENBERG: Verrilli pointed to rare occasions when previous solicitors general have initially defended a law in the lower courts but refused to do so on appeal. But Republicans were not appeased. Alabama's Jeff Sessions.

JEFF SESSIONS: Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

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