Solicitor General Olson to Quit

Solicitor General Theodore Olson (search), who represented the Bush administration before the Supreme Court and became a voice for strong antiterrorism policies after his wife died in the Sept. 11 attacks, said Thursday he is resigning to return to law practice.

Olson, 63, said he will leave his post in July, shortly after the Supreme Court completes its current term. He has served as solicitor general since June 11, 2001 and, prior to joining the Justice Department, represented President Bush in the legal battle over the disputed 2000 presidential election.

Exactly three months after he took office, Olson's wife, Barbara, also a prominent Washington lawyer and conservative commentator, died aboard the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.

After the attacks, Olson became a personal symbol of the cost of terrorism and later took an unusually public role for an administration Supreme Court lawyer, particularly in support of its efforts to defeat terrorism.

At a Justice Department remembrance ceremony on Sept. 11, 2003, Olson said an unrelenting fight against terrorism is the best way to honor the attack victims.

"Their suffering and deaths must fuel our dedication to stamp out this cancer," Olson said.

In his resignation statement Thursday, Olson said that the struggle against terrorism "will be long and arduous" but said that President Bush has the nation on the right path to prevail.

No successor was immediately named.

As solicitor general, Olson participated in 26 oral arguments before the Supreme Court, prevailing on 20 of the 23 that have been decided as of Thursday, according to the Justice Department. These include cases about the Pledge of Allegiance in schools, the secrecy of Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force documents and a key school voucher case.

In a statement, Attorney General John Ashcroft (search) called Olson "a dedicated patriot" whose "judgment and legal skill have greatly benefited the American people in so many ways, but particularly in our fight against terror."

The Supreme Court next week is expected to decide several key tests of administration terrorism policy, including whether detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have access to U.S. courts and whether a U.S. citizen, Jose Padilla (search), can be held as an enemy combatant without the rights afforded conventional criminal defendants.

Olson also argued 14 other cases before the court while in private law practice at the Los Angeles-based law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

Olson's biggest case as a private lawyer was Bush v. Gore (search), the pivotal Supreme Court decision that settled the 2000 election between Bush and Democrat Al Gore. Like many senior Justice Department appointees, Olson is a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization.

In the early 1980s, Olson also served as assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel during President Reagan's first term. Born in Chicago, he is a University of California at Berkeley law school graduate.