On February 21, Jonathan Ellis L’10 argued his first case in front of the Supreme Court. As an Assistant to the Solicitor General, Ellis represented the government in Rosales-Mireles v. United States, a case involving the standard for plain error review.
Ellis was hired as an Assistant to the Solicitor General in June, and he is one of 21 lawyers in the office who represent the U.S. government in front of the Supreme Court.
In his position, Ellis has three main job responsibilities. The most notable one is working on merits cases before the Supreme Court. He writes merits briefs, and prepares to argue the case himself, as he did in Rosales-Mireles, or he helps prepare other attorneys to argue cases.
Traditionally, Ellis noted, Assistants in the office argue one case in front of the Supreme Court in their first year, and then two or three cases in each following year.
Ellis also writes briefs in opposition to petitions for certiorari for cases involving the government among the 6,000 to 8,000 petitions received by the Supreme Court each year, and recommends to the Solicitor General whether permission should be granted to the other divisions in the Department of Justice or federal agencies to appeal cases the government has lost in the district courts.
“The work has been a steady stream of research and persuasive writing on complex legal issues, which has been very rewarding, very interesting, and it’s also been consistently varied, which is part of what I enjoy about appellate work,” said Ellis.
Ellis became interested in appellate law during his time at Penn Law, and he pursued it throughout legal education. During his 1L summer, he got a taste of appellate work at Jones Day in Washington, D.C., as well as during his 2L summer in the D.C. office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. As a 3L, he joined Penn Law’s Supreme Court Clinic during its inaugural year.
“Appellate litigation is probably the field of legal practice most similar to law school itself,” said Ellis, noting the emphasis on reading court of appeals decisions and putting together persuasive arguments.
“In large part, my education prepared me directly for this job.”
Following graduation from Penn Law, Ellis clerked for one year with Judge A. Raymond Randolph L’69 of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and then served for a year as a Bristow Fellow in the Office of the Solicitor General. After working as a Bristow Fellow, he clerked for Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., of the Supreme Court.
Ellis then worked for nearly four years as an associate in the appellate and Supreme Court practice at Latham & Watkins before re-joining the Solicitor General’s Office as an Assistant.
During his interview for the position, Ellis met another Penn Law graduate committed to a career in appellate law — Ilana Eisenstein L’04, who was then serving as an Assistant to the Solicitor General.
For Ellis, the most fulfilling parts of his job are representing the United States, serving with his fantastic colleagues in the office and the government, and striving to maintain the traditions and high standards of the Solicitor General’s Office. Continually meeting those standards for complex appellate work at the highest level is challenging, he said, but he works with an accomplished group of attorneys.
The cases bring up different issues each time, he noted, touching every facet of society and every aspect of law, which is part of what makes his job so rewarding.
“The questions are always new,” he said. “The tools and the way of thinking about them are the same.”