Considered one of the premier offices to work for as a lawyer in the federal government, the Office of the Solicitor General conducts all litigation on behalf of the United States in the Supreme Court and supervises the handling of litigation in the federal appellate courts. The United States is involved in approximately two-thirds of all the cases the U.S. Supreme Court decides on the merits each year.
Heytens spoke about his new position from his office at the Law School, where the view of the mountains outside his window disappeared into the blue haze of the July heat. Among the papers and photos on the shelf below the window are Green Bag bobblehead dolls of Justice Sandra Day O'Conner and former Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Heytens was finishing work on an article but took time out to talk about the pending move.
“I don't know exactly how long the job will last,” he admitted, “The current idea is that it will certainly last at least two years and it may well last three.” He said the details on his leave from the Law School are still being worked on.
Heytens is no stranger to the OSG, having been a recipient of a 2001 Bristow Fellowship, named for the first Solicitor General Benjamin H. Bristow. Heytens explained that Bristow Fellows also work in the OSG and do much of what assistants do: help write briefs and papers on issues before the Supreme Court, file amicus briefs in the lower courts, as well as determine if cases found against the government in lower courts should be appealed.
Heytens said his one-year fellowship certainly made him a likely candidate for the job of OSG assistant. “I know the current solicitor general [Paul Clement] because he was the principal deputy when I was there and I worked with him quite a bit.” He explained further, “Of the four deputies, two are the same when I was there previously and the current principal deputy was actually an assistant when I was there.”
Heytens also has previous experience with appellate litigation. After clerking for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, he worked at the law firm O’Melveny & Myers, where his practice focused on appellate litigation, including numerous civil rights cases and other pro bono matters. During his time at the Law School he helped coach the undergraduate University of Virginia mock trial team, which this year defeated Harvard to win the American Mock Trial Association’s National Championship Tournament.
Although he couldn’t turn down an opportunity to work for the solicitor general, Heytens, a 2000 graduate of the Law School, will miss teaching. Asked to come up with a highlight for his recently finished year, Heytens laughed. “Wow, pretty much the whole thing!...This year was the first opportunity I had to teach first years. I taught a small section of Civil Procedure in the fall and it was tremendously fun, both personally and professionally.
“People ask me if it was weird going back to teach where I went to law school and I said, 'You've got to remember that I hadn't been there for six years and they've hired a lot of new people in those six years.'”
Had Charlottesville changed while he was away? Heytens didn't hesitate, “Charlottesville's fantastic!” When he and his wife moved back they made a pact to eat at a different restaurant every time they ate out. Four months later they had to abandon the pact in order to go back to a few of their favorites. Heytens summed it up this way: “I've concluded that Charlottesville has either gotten a lot better or I grossly under-appreciated it when I was in law school.”• Written by Ken Reitz