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Saturday, September 09, 2006 

Ted Olson: Life After 9/11

We are just a few days away from the fifth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. While the attacks were traumatic to the entire country and anyone with a shred of decency in themselves, the relatives of the victims must be taking it especially hard. How does one pick up the pieces after having a loved one violently taken from them? For an example, just look to former Solicitor General Ted Olson.

Olson has a very personal connection to 9/11...
Early that day -- his 61st birthday -- his wife, Barbara, left their McLean, Va., house for Dulles International Airport to board American Airlines flight 77, bound for Los Angeles. Olson, then the solicitor general, headed to his Justice Department office. Not long after, Olson's longtime aide, Helen Voss, burst in to tell him that Barbara was on the phone, sounding panicked. Her plane had been hijacked, Barbara told him. What should she tell the pilot to do? The plane rammed into the Pentagon, and she was gone. Olson's wife, a well-known conservative commentator, was one of the best-known victims of the terrorist attacks.
Olson did what many people do in the aftermath of a loss: he threw himself into his work. As Solicitor General of the Bush Administration, he certainly had no shortage of work either...
After 9/11, Olson took on an expanded portfolio in the Office of the Solicitor General as a leading defender of the administration's anti-terror legal strategy. He coordinated the government's response to the tide of litigation against the USA Patriot Act and the handling of detainees, among other issues. Olson's own loss lent an unspoken gravity to his arguments but, in the end, did not appear to make them any more successful.

Olson's role in actually devising post-9/11 policy appears to have been limited. "I was involved to a small degree," he says. "But I wasn't drafting legislation or making any policy judgments."
He did a pretty good job too...
The rest of his record as solicitor general was strong: He won almost all of the 26 cases he argued, and he won points among career attorneys for attending all of their arguments during his tenure. "At bottom, Ted is an advocate," says [Mark] Perry. "We all win some and we lose some. He's among the best I've ever seen."
Olson also famously (or infamously, depending on your politics) won Bush v Gore. As far as Supreme Court litigators go, he's one of the best.

Olson ends with this message, which I think is definitely insightful...
But he knows he is still one of the most visible symbols of that day and says that his message, his mantra, has been to extol hard work. "I felt that the wonderful job I had as solicitor general would be a catharsis, a way to focus," Olson says. "I thought it would be good for me and good as a symbol for those who were watching me."

He adds: "It's important to understand that while I suffered a great loss, everyone else experiences great loss at some time too. It's important for each of us to accept what happened and move on and do everything possible to go on with leading a productive life."
Olson is also getting remarried, so congratulations to him on that.

I had the privilege of hearing Ted Olson speak once. He's an incredible attorney, a brilliant mind, and a decent guy. I look forward to watching his continued work before the Supreme Court.

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