Meet Noel Francisco, the Conservative Supreme Court Litigator Who Could Take Over Oversight of Mueller Investigation

Solicitor general is the next in line if Rod Rosenstein is ousted

From left to right, Justice Department nominees Noel Francisco to be solicitor general, Makan Delrahim to be an assistant attorney general in the Antitrust Division, and Steven Engel to be an assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, raise their right hands as they are sworn in during their Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill, on May 10, 2017. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

If Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is ousted Monday, oversight of the special counsel investigation of Russian activity will most likely fall to Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco.

Francisco, a former partner at the Jones Day law firm in Washington, is the next Senate-confirmed Justice Department official in line to oversee the probe led by Special Counsel Robert S. Muller. However, there is an open question about Francisco’s role in such a situation, because of a possible conflict dating from his time at Jones Day. 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions previously recused himself from involvement.

In his current role, Francisco is the top Supreme Court litigator for the Trump administration.

He has strong conservative credentials. He clerked for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, was an associate White House counsel in the George W. Bush administration and also worked in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel for two years during the Bush administration.

Before getting to his current job, Francisco had already argued three cases before the Supreme Court, all frustrating the Obama administration. He successfully challenged President Barack Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board.

“That case is especially important for this body because the Supreme Court’s unanimous 2014 decision reaffirmed that the Senate, not the president, has the clear constitutional authority to prescribe the rules of its own proceedings,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a floor speech during his confirmation process.

He won Senate confirmation to be the solicitor general in a party-line vote, 50-47, just over a year ago, ahead of the start of the last term of the Supreme Court.

Among his other notable cases, Francisco argued on behalf of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell in a case where the Supreme Court threw out the Republican’s convictions on bribery in 2016.

A native of upstate New York, Fransciso earned his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Chicago. He clerked for Judge J. Michael Luttig, a conservative member of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals before clerking for Scalia.

Todd Ruger contributed to this report.

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