WASHINGTON — Theodore B. Olson, whose arguments before the Supreme Court in 2000 were a crucial factor in the election of George W. Bush as president, is resigning as solicitor general to return to private practice, the Justice Department announced Thursday.
Olson was nominated for the solicitor general post in June 2001, six months after successfully representing candidate Bush in the Supreme Court case involving a recount of the vote in Florida. The court's decision resulted in Bush winning the state, and the Florida electoral votes gave him the White House. Olson was confirmed after a hard-fought partisan battle in the Senate.
Supervising the government's appellate work in the federal courts, Olson has helped craft Bush administration legal arguments on issues that include campaign finance reform and affirmative action.
But he is best-known for his work in the administration's war on terrorism, publicly pushing for the tough new laws that became the Patriot Act. His wife, Barbara, a Washington lawyer and author, was aboard the hijacked plane that crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
In a statement Thursday, Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft called Olson "a dedicated patriot."
"His judgment and legal skill have greatly benefited the American people in so many ways, but particularly in our fight against terror," Ashcroft said.
Olson, 63, could not be reached for comment, but in a statement he praised Bush and Ashcroft for their efforts against terrorism.
The statement did not give a reason why Olson was leaving, but said the move would be effective next month, after the current Supreme Court term ended. He is expected to rejoin his former Los Angeles law firm, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.
Olson's departure is the latest in a series of resignations over the last year by top officials who helped shape the Justice Department's response after the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania.
Some of the legal arguments the department has used in terrorism cases are now under attack. Next week, the Supreme Court is expected to decide two such cases in which Olson' s office argued for giving the president broad power in dealing with suspected terrorists, even those who are U.S. citizens.
They include the case of Jose Padilla, a former Chicago gang member accused of plotting to explode a "dirty bomb" on behalf of Al Qaeda. Padilla was locked up in a military jail and denied a lawyer for months after being declared an "enemy combatant" by Bush. The other case involves the rights of suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban members being held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Not counting the pending cases, Olson's tenure was marked by an unusual degree of success before the Supreme Court. He argued more than 20 cases, including the court's decision Thursday enabling the White House to keep secret records of a task force, headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, that in 2001 produced findings friendly to the energy industry.