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Paul Clement has been solicitor general of the United States for less than a year, so he was suspicious when he heard that Georgetown University Law Center’s Supreme Court Institute wanted to honor him at its annual reception recently. It sounded valedictory, Clement said. “I thought you knew something I didn’t know,” he told the crowd with a smile. But judging by the accolades, Clement has substantial job security. Predecessor Theodore Olson said that Clement has already met a “24 karat gold” standard for advocacy. In the way of Washington, Clement was even praised by someone who was his adversary less than a month earlier: Georgetown professor Neal Katyal, who argued against Clement in the Guant�namo Bay detainee case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. But the warmest words came from Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom Clement clerked in 1993 and 1994. Scalia said that Clement, who had shown his talents as deputy solicitor general before being promoted, was “the sentimental favorite” among justices for the post. “I am so glad he is solicitor general, because he makes my job easier.” But Scalia mystified the audience somewhat by revealing one complaint he had about Clement: the black vest he wears to the Court with the customary swallow-tail morning coat as solicitor general. Scalia insisted the vest should be a pearl gray, and he thought Clement had broken with tradition. “As you know, all change is presumptively wrong,” Scalia said, only half-joking. But the justice said he had the Court curator look up the history of the outfit, and, sure enough, Clement was right; black is the proper and traditional color for the SG’s vest. Scalia’s complaint surprised several in the audience, including retired Deputy Solicitor General Lawrence Wallace, who has long served as the institutional memory of the office. “We have worn black vests ever since I can remember,” says Wallace, who retired in 2003 after arguing 157 cases before the high court — more than any other lawyer alive. Wallace says he always felt that wearing the morning coat and vest was “an unnecessary tradition” that unfairly differentiates government lawyers from other advocates. He still hopes the tradition will “fall by the wayside” when the first female solicitor general is named someday — though men’s morning suits can be and have been altered to fit women. But until the tradition dies, Wallace says black vests are, and always have been, de rigueur. “I don’t know where Justice Scalia got the idea they should be pearl gray,” says Wallace, but he offered a theory. “With nine children, he has probably seen a lot of gray vests at weddings.”

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