On this day in 2011, former partner Don Verrilli was sworn in as the solicitor general of the United States. Don was nominated by President Barack Obama in January 2011 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate on a 72-16 vote. While at Jenner & Block, Don focused his practice on telecommunications law, copyright law, and First Amendment law. He was the chair of the Telecommunications Practice and co-chair of the Appellate and Supreme Court Practice.
Today is Law Day, celebrating the rule of law and its significance to society. In recognition of the day, we highlight Don Verrilli's successful argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in Wiggins v. Smith in March 2003. Pro bono client Kevin Wiggins had been found guilty of capital murder after a bench trial in 1989; a jury sentenced him to death. But the two public defenders did not thoroughly investigate Mr. Wiggins’ background and, therefore, Don argued, failed to tell the jury of “powerful mitigating evidence” that could have spared him that fate. In its June 2003 ruling, the Court held that the performance of Mr. Wiggins’ attorneys at sentencing violated his Sixth Amendment right to effective counsel. The case reaffirmed the importance of the right to counsel in capital cases and helped to establish meaningful standards for defense counsel’s performance. Mr. Wiggins was resentenced to life in prison and ultimately sent to a state facility for mental health treatment and rehabilitation.
On this day in 2005, in perhaps the most watched commercial case of the Supreme Court’s term, then-partner Don Verrilli argued on behalf of client MGM and other studio and content owners in MGM Studios v. Grokster, a case that would establish whether file-sharing services such as Grokster could be held liable for infringement for enabling customers to download music and movies protected by federal copyright laws. Lower courts held that because Grokster could point to legal uses of its software, such as distributing works in the public domain, it could not be held liable. But Don told the justices that these file-sharing companies could show only "minuscule" legitimate uses of their products – and should not "get a perpetual free pass" simply because they could speculate on ways a customer might use their services legitimately. In June, the Court agreed, ruling that Grokster could be held liable for inducing copyright infringement. In November, the company announced that it would no longer offer its peer-to-peer file-sharing service.
On this day in 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of firm client NextWave in FCC v. NextWave Personal Communications Inc., returning billions of dollars worth of wireless phone spectrum licenses. The FCC had attempted to repossess the licenses after NextWave failed to make installment payments while reorganizing under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. The agency argued that the licenses were automatically cancelled when the company missed its first payment-deadline and denied NextWave’s petition for reconsideration of the cancellation. The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held that the cancellation violated 11 USC section 525(a), which provides that a "governmental unit may not...revoke...a license...to...a debtor...solely because such...debtor...has not paid a debt that is dischargeable in the case.” The Supreme Court upheld the appellate court ruling 8-1. Former partner Don Verrilli, later appointed U.S. solicitor general, argued the case in the Supreme Court. Former partners Ian Gershengorn (now principal deputy solicitor general in the U.S. Department of Justice) and Bill Hohengarten were also on the team.