New Texas solicitor general named

Sept 10, 2018
Nick Wagner
Scott Keller has resigned as Texas solicitor general to take a job with a Washington, D.C., law firm. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Texas government has a new chief appellate lawyer, a job that has become a launching point for careers by establishing the conservative bona fides of Ted Cruz, now the state’s junior U.S. senator, and others.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced Monday that he had named Kyle Hawkins as solicitor general, replacing Scott Keller, who resigned to become a partner in a prominent Washington, D.C., law firm after arguing 11 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Texas.

Hawkins, 38, an assistant solicitor general in Paxton’s office since 2017, established a conservative pedigree early in his legal career by serving as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and for Judge Edith Jones, one of the most conservative members of one of the nation’s most conservative appellate courts, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

A graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School, Hawkins also worked in the appellate and constitutional law practice group for Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher law firm in Washington and Dallas.

Shortly after taking office in January 2015, Paxton tapped Keller to be solicitor general, and Texas won 6 of the 11 cases Keller argued before the Supreme Court.

“Scott Keller has handled some of the most important and complicated litigation our state has seen in recent years and achieved a career’s worth of incredible success in just over three years as solicitor general,” Paxton said. “Scott is a brilliant legal mind who could work anywhere, but fortunately he chose to serve the state of Texas and its citizens.”

Notable victories included a June ruling that upheld 10 Texas political districts that a lower court had found to be discriminatory and a 4-4 decision in 2016 that blocked an order from President Barack Obama that would have extended deportation protection to millions of immigrants.

During Keller’s tenure, rulings by other courts also preserved Texas’ watered-down voter ID law, upheld most of a law requiring local officials to cooperate with immigration authorities, overturned ordinances by Austin and other cities that banned disposable shopping bags and overturned a lower-court ruling that said the state’s public school financing system was unconstitutional.

But Texas lost a key case in 2016 when the Supreme Court overturned abortion regulations that would have closed more than half of the state’s abortion clinics, leaving nine operating. The ruling established a precedent that will make it more difficult to defend restrictions that do not provide medical benefits that outweigh burdens placed on access to abortions.

The state also lost three Supreme Court challenges brought by Texas death row inmates in recent years.

Keller, whose law degree is from the University of Texas, left to become partner in the Baker Botts law firm, Paxton said.

In addition to Cruz, a Republican who served as solicitor general from 2003 to 2008, the office has been held by Jim Ho, who was appointed to the 5th Circuit by President Donald Trump earlier this year. Trump also has named two others with ties to the office to serve on the 5th Circuit, which handles federal appeals from Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi — Kyle Duncan, a former assistant solicitor general, and Andy Oldham, who was deputy solicitor general.