Acting Solicitor General of the United States: Who is Ian Heath Gershengorn?

Thursday, February 16, 2017
Ian Heath Gershengorn

Ian Heath Gershengorn was named acting solicitor general of the United States in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on June 2, 2016. His appointment to run the Office of the Solicitor General became effective on June 25, 2016. He served in this position until Donald Trump became U.S. president, after which he was replaced by Noel Francisco.


Gershengorn was born on February 21, 1967, in New York City. He and his two sisters were raised on the outskirts of Boston, Massachusetts, by his father, Brookline cardiologist Kenneth Gershengorn, and his mother, Wendie Gershengorn, who was a Massachusetts state superior court judge (retired in 2011). Young Gershengorn received his A.B. magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1988, and his J.D. magna cum laude in 1993 from Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review and played pickup basketball games with fellow law student Barack Obama.


Gershengorn’s first job after college was law clerk, serving in 1993 for Judge Amalya L. Kearse of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and then, in 1994, for Associate Justice John Paul Stevens of the U.S. Supreme Court.


From 1995 to 1997, Gershengorn tackled civil rights matters while serving in the Justice Department under the Clinton administration as special assistant and counsel to Deputy Attorney General Jamie S. Gorelick, and then as assistant to Attorney General Janet Reno. He subsequently joined the Washington, D.C. law firm of Jenner & Block, working in its litigation department and focusing on constitutional and telecommunications law, and Indian sovereignty disputes. He worked his way up to becoming firm partner and a member of both its communications practice and appellate and Supreme Court practice.


In 2009, the leadership of the Justice Department decided on Gershengorn as someone it wanted to bring on board to handle health care law litigation in the lower courts. So on April 13, DOJ associate attorney general Thomas J. Perrelli recruited Gershengorn—pulling him straight out of his law firm, complete with a cut in pay—to return to the DOJ, this time to serve as a deputy assistant attorney general for the department’s Civil Division. (Jenner & Block proved to be a rich resource for the DOJ, providing it with not only Gershengorn, but his recruiter Perrelli—a former managing partner at the firm—and Donald B. Verrilli Jr., who went on to become the man Gershenborn would replace in 2016 as U.S. solicitor general.)


Gershengorn’s primary responsibility at the DOJ’s civil branch was to oversee the 130 attorneys that make up the Federal Programs Branch, whose task is to litigate on behalf of federal agencies and officials, including the president and the members of his cabinet. Among the cases that Gershengorn supervised—and often personally argued in court—was the Obama administration’s defense of the Affordable Care Act against dozens of challenges filed against it across the country. Other high-profile court battles involved the rights of Guantánamo detainees, policy on gays in the military, embryonic stem cell research, and state secrets. “Every day, I deal with two or three cases of a lifetime,” he then told The New York Times.


On August 9, 2013, Gershengorn was appointed principal deputy solicitor general for the United States, which placed him before the U.S. Supreme Court to argue cases on 10 occasions over the course of nearly three years. The cases involved issues involving constitutionality of prayer in town council meetings, state interference with abortion clinic operations, and a company’s claim of a right to refuse employment to a woman because of the religious head scarf she wore.


A Democrat, Gershengorn has said that he doesn’t consider himself particularly partisan, but in interviews he’s made clear his passion for working on behalf of the U.S. government. That’s clearly shared by those around him, as his Justice Department roots run through much of his family tree: his two sisters have also worked as lawyers for the DOJ. And Gershengorn’s wife, Gail, is, like her husband, a graduate of Harvard Law School who also worked as a trial lawyer in the DOJ’s Federal Programs Branch. The couple has three sons.

-Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

Long Road for Lawyer Defending the Health Care Law (by Kevin Sack, New York Times)

When Is a Warrantless and Suspicionless Search of a Bus Passenger “Consensual”? (by Ian Heath Gershengorn, American Bar Association) (pdf)

Official Biography


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