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WASHINGTON –Solicitor General Theodore Olson confirmed late Thursday he is leaving his post as the government’s top appellate lawyer in July. Olson said he informed Attorney General John Ashcroft and Vice President Dick Cheney of his plans on Wednesday and told members of his staff on Thursday morning. “It seemed like the right time to do it,” Olson, 63, told Legal Times , a Recorder affiliate, Thursday. “I love the job. I love the people. I love the court. It’s good to go when you’re happy.” Olson said it was time to return to “a slightly higher paycheck” at a private law firm, but said he has not focused specifically on what firm that might be. No matter where he goes, Olson would catapult instantly to the upper echelons of lucrative Supreme Court practice, as have recent predecessors Seth Waxman, Walter Dellinger and Kenneth Starr. Olson said Thursday he has a “strong affection” for his old firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher — the only place he has ever worked as a lawyer other than the Justice Department. During the Reagan administration, Olson headed the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Olson was a veteran appellate litigator with Gibson, Dunn before becoming solicitor general a little more than three years ago. The appointment was widely viewed as a reward for the pivotal role Olson played in representing then-candidate George W. Bush in the historic Bush v. Gore litigation over the 2000 election results. Perhaps as a result, Olson’s Senate confirmation as solicitor general became a protracted battle. Once he took office, Olson won points among career lawyers for keeping his promise to attend every Supreme Court oral argument in which a member of the SG’s staff argued. Olson’s life and job changed on Sept. 11, 2001, when his wife, Barbara, a well-known political commentator and lawyer, was killed in one of the planes involved in the terrorist attack that day. Olson became an active and visible part of the Justice Department’s team devising strategy and legislation responding to terrorism. Before the high court, Olson argued numerous important cases — 41 in all during his private and public career — and on Thursday he singled out Zelman v. Simmons-Harris , the 2002 school voucher case, and McConnell v. FEC , the 2003 campaign finance reform case, as his biggest successes as solicitor general. “Some people thought we wouldn’t have our heart in defending the [campaign finance] law, but it was an act of Congress we were proud to defend,” Olson said. Olson would not speculate on who would be named as his successor, but he said he had “unparalleled admiration” for Paul Clement, his so-called political deputy, who has also been a key part of the legal team defending the administration’s wartime legal strategies. Olson was at the Supreme Court on Thursday morning to hear its announcement of opinions, and spoke briefly with reporters who cover the court, but offered no hint that he was about to make the announcement. One reporter even joked with him that Olson’s unusual attire — a cream-colored double-breasted suit, not his usual gray morning suit — was a sign that he was leaving. Of the suit, Olson said he had forgotten when he dressed Thursday morning that the court was sitting. Once reporters chided him about the color of his suit, Olson said, “I tried to look small” when the court session began. “Then I decided the best thing to do was resign,” Olson joked. Tony Mauro is Supreme Court correspondent for American Lawyer Media andThe Recorder’s Washington, D.C., affiliateLegal Times. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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