April 07, 2023 — Growing up in California, Scott Stewart did not imagine a career as a lawyer nor working as the lead advocate for the state of Mississippi in the landmark case Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Stewart, who became the Mississippi Solicitor General in 2021, shared his career path, insights on litigating Dobbs and advice for students interested in appellate law during a Federalist Society talk at the University of Houston Law Center. The Q&A session was moderated by UHLC student Sophie Belton.
Variety and challenge drew Stewart to the legal profession. He earned his J.D. from Stanford Law School and clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas of the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Clerking is like winning the lottery,” Stewart said.
While working with Justice Thomas, Stewart learned how judges think and what makes cases persuasive. After clerking in the U.S. Supreme Court, Stewart worked as an attorney for the Department of Justice.
One memorable piece of advice Stewart received while working for Justice Thomas was to “get out of D.C,” which is how Stewart ended up working in Mississippi as the Solicitor General after his time at the DOJ.
As the Solicitor General, Stewart oversees appeals for the state and can litigate cases at the state, federal and U.S. Supreme Court levels.
When Stewart stepped into the role as Solicitor General in February 2021, the Dobbs case was still pending before the Supreme Court. However, a few months into his new job, the Supreme Court decided to hear the case with arguments in December 2021.
In the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the Supreme Court established the right to an abortion and in the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, the court upheld Roe but opened the door for restrictions.
When the Court initially decided to hear oral arguments in Dobbs, the “dominant view was the Court didn’t take Dobbs to overturn Roe and Casey,” said Stewart.
Stewart spoke about the importance of case strategy in Dobbs, noting that with a case “in the Supreme Court, the question of what to argue was critical.”
Stewart explained the legal team could argue that either the law at issue in Dobbs, the Gestational Age Act passed in 2018 that prohibited abortions in Mississippi after 15 weeks, could be upheld under Roe and Casey or could argue to overturn Roe and Casey.
“That fork-in-the-road decision is the most important part of the case,” Stewart said on selecting the strategy to argue to overturn Roe and Casey. “My view was when you dig into Roe and Casey they had no basis in the Constitution.”
Stewart believes the Supreme Court opinion in Dobbs, which overturned Roe got theconstitution right.
To prepare for his first time arguing before the Supreme Court, Stewart told students that he practiced extensively, including participating in moots.
“It is important that an oral argument be a conversation. Don’t over plan,” Stewart advised.
For law students interested in appellate litigation, Stewart recommends two tips.
First, develop skills in the effective use of language, persuasion and professional writing. Second, build character, as a lawyer's job is to give people hard advice and make controversial decisions.
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