December 6, 2023


Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
Prelogar rising
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
          WASHINGTON – Elizabeth Prelogar is a name few knew, but many soon will. In the eternal search for rising stars, hers is shining bright. For the time being she holds down the position of U.S. Solicitor General, but following a stellar performance before the U.S. Supreme Court, she is certain to find herself in high demand for virtually any path she chooses, whether it leads to a position on the Supreme Court, high political office, or a coveted spot in private practice.
          Prelogar reminds us that heroes are still out there, and they can come from anywhere. In her case, that is Boise, Idaho. She entered Boise State University at age 12 and in 2004, was Miss Idaho, appearing in the annual Miss America Parade in Atlantic City. Her cause was helping people with disabilities.
          Graduating from Emory University, she went on to St. Andrews University in Scotland for creative writing, and then to Harvard Law where she graduated magna cum laude. This was followed by three unprecedented back-to-back prime clerkships for Merrick Garland (now attorney general) at the D.C. District Court and Supreme Court Justices Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Elena Kagan.
          Kagan was the first woman named Solicitor General. Prelogar, appointed by President Joe Biden, is the second, and she knows the Supreme Court and its justices from the inside out.
          Prelogar has credentials most people could only dream about, but credentials are just that. Many a rising star has fallen. Not so for Prelogar. To see her in action is to understand she can marshal her talents in service of the law or whatever else she might have in mind.
          Asked about his student loan forgiveness program, President Biden said he was confident he is on the right side of the law, but not confident of the outcome in the Supreme Court. The Court’s nine justices heard oral arguments in a case brought by seven Republican-held states, claiming Biden exceeded his authority by canceling up to $20,000 in debt for millions of borrowers.
          With six conservative justices outnumbering three liberal justices, Biden’s program was assumed doomed. Then came Prelogar. Tasked with presenting the administration’s case, she politely, calmly, respectfully, and brilliantly stunned everyone, including the justices. Analysts raved about her, and headlines blared. “Administration lawyer may have saved student loan forgiveness plan at Supreme Court,” declared CNBC.
          “Her preparation, poise and power were impressive,” said higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz. “It was like the difference between a star quarterback and two tiddlywinks players,” referring to her plaintiff opponents.
          Law professors across the ideological spectrum applauded the ease with which Prelogar dispatched critics of the loan forgiveness program, arguing that the plaintiffs had no standing to bring the case because they suffered no harm.
          University of Illinois Chicago law professor Steven Schwinn speculated that Prelogar’s superb performance “could have influenced or even changed the thinking of two justices, maybe more.”
          Who knows what the Court will do now that it overturned Roe and has taken a hard turn to the right. Whatever the ruling, the 43-year-old Prelogar should take a bow. She made a forceful case for student loan debt forgiveness based on the Heroes Act of 2003 (Higher Education Relief Opportunities Emergency Services), which gives the Secretary of Education broad latitude to alleviate hardship for students who receive loans during a federal emergency.
          Perhaps she has no interest in politics or a seat on the Supreme Court, but whatever future she charts, it is a welcome sight to see a rising star rise.
          Douglas Cohn’s latest books are World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers) and The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency.
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2023 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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