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Theodore Olson

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Theodore Olson
42nd Solicitor General of the United States
In office
June 11, 2001 – July 10, 2004
PresidentGeorge W. Bush
Preceded bySeth P. Waxman
Succeeded byPaul Clement
United States Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel
In office
PresidentRonald Reagan
Preceded byJohn Harmon
Succeeded byCharles Cooper
Personal details
Theodore Bevry Olson

(1940-09-11) September 11, 1940 (age 83)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Karen Beatie
(m. 1964; div. 1987)
Jolie Bales
(m. 1989; div. 1991)
(m. 1996; died 2001)
Lady Booth
(m. 2006)
EducationUniversity of the Pacific (BA)
University of California, Berkeley (JD)

Theodore Bevry Olson (born September 11, 1940) is an American lawyer who served as the 42nd solicitor general of the United States from 2001 until 2004. Previously, Olson served as the United States Assistant Attorney General of the Office of Legal Counsel (1981–1984) under President Ronald Reagan. He remains a practicing attorney at the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

Early life and education[edit]

Olson was born in Chicago, the son of Yvonne Lucy (Bevry) and Lester W. Olson.[1] He grew up in Mountain View, California, in the San Francisco Bay Area. He attended Los Altos High School where he graduated in 1958. In 1962, Olson graduated cum laude from the University of the Pacific with a degree in communications and history where he was a charter member of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity chapter. He earned his J.D. degree from the UC Berkeley School of Law in 1965.[2] At Berkeley, Olson served as a contributor to the California Law Review and was a member of Order of the Coif.[3]

Legal career[edit]

Early legal career: 1965 to 2000[edit]

In 1965, Olson joined the Los Angeles office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher as an associate. In 1972, he was named a partner.[4]

From 1981 to 1984, Olson served as an Assistant Attorney General (Office of Legal Counsel) in the Reagan administration.[5] While serving in the Reagan administration, Olson was Legal Counsel to President Reagan during the Iran-Contra Affair's investigation phase.[5] Olson was also the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel[6] when then President Ronald Reagan ordered the Administrator of the EPA to withhold documents on the ground that they contained "enforcement sensitive information."[7] This led to an investigation by the House Judiciary Committee that later produced a report suggesting Olson had given false and misleading testimony before a House subcommittee during the investigation. The Judiciary Committee forwarded a copy of the report to the Attorney General, requesting the appointment of an independent counsel investigation.

Olson argued that the Independent Counsel took executive powers away from the office of the President of the United States and created a hybrid "fourth branch" of government that was ultimately answerable to no one. He argued that the broad powers of the Independent Counsel could be easily abused or corrupted by partisanship. In the Supreme Court Case Morrison v. Olson, the Court disagreed with Olson and found in favor of the Plaintiff and independent counsel Alexia Morrison.[8]

He returned to private law practice as a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of his firm, Gibson Dunn.

A high-profile client in the 1980s was Jonathan Pollard, who had been convicted of selling government secrets to Israel. Olson handled the appeal to United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Olson argued the life sentence Pollard received was in violation of the plea bargain agreement, which had specifically excluded a life sentence. Olson also argued that the violation of the plea bargain was grounds for a mistrial. The Court of Appeals ruled (2‑1) that no grounds for mistrial existed.

Olson argued a dozen cases before the Supreme Court prior to becoming Solicitor General.[9] In one case, he argued against federal sentencing guidelines; and, in a case in New York state, he defended a member of the press who had first leaked the Anita Hill story.[5] Olson successfully represented presidential candidate George W. Bush in the Supreme Court case Bush v. Gore, which effectively ended the recount of the contested 2000 presidential election.

Later legal career: 2001 to present[edit]

Olson in 2010

Olson was nominated for the office of Solicitor General by President Bush on February 14, 2001. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on May 24, 2001, and took office on June 11, 2001. In 2002, Olson argued for the federal government in the Supreme Court case Christopher v. Harbury (536 U.S. 403), in which Supreme Court agreed with Olson's position in its unanimous opinion written by Justice Souter. Olson maintained that the government had an inherent right to lie: “There are lots of different situations where the government quite legitimately may have reasons to give false information out.” [10][11][12] In July 2004, Olson retired as Solicitor General and returned to private practice at the Washington office of Gibson Dunn.

In 2006, Olson represented a defendant journalist in the civil case filed by Wen Ho Lee and pursued the appeal to the Supreme Court.[13] Lee sued the federal government to discover which public officials had named him as a suspect to journalists before he had been charged.[13] Olson wrote a brief on behalf of one of the journalists involved in the case, saying that journalists should not have to identify confidential sources, even if subpoenaed by a court.[13] In 2011, Olson represented the National Football League Players Association in the 2011 NFL lockout.[14][15]

In 2009, he joined with President Clinton's former attorney David Boies, who was also his opposing counsel in Bush v. Gore, to bring a federal lawsuit, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, challenging Proposition 8, a California state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.[16] His work on the lawsuit earned him a place among the Time 100's greatest thinkers.[17] In 2011, Olson and David Boies were awarded the ABA Medal, the highest award of the American Bar Association.[18] In 2014, Olson received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement presented by Awards Council member Brendan V. Sullivan, Jr.[19][20]

Apple Inc. hired Olson to fight the FBI–Apple encryption dispute court order to unlock an iPhone, which ended with the government withdrawing its case.[21]

Olson also represented New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the Deflategate scandal,[22] which ended with Brady electing not to pursue Supreme Court appeal of a four-game suspension.[23][24]

In 2017, Olson represented a group of billboard advertisers in a lawsuit against the City of San Francisco. The group challenged a city law requiring soda companies to include in their advertisements warnings that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with serious health risks like diabetes. The suit claimed that the law is an unconstitutional restriction on commercial speech. In September 2017, a panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Olson and provisionally barred the city's mandated warnings.[25]

In March 2018, Olson turned down an offer to represent Donald Trump in the probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.[26]

In November 2019, Olson represented the DACA recipients in the Supreme court case Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California.[27] On June 18, the Supreme Court upheld the program due to the failure of the Trump administration to follow the Administrative Procedure Act while rescinding DACA.

Olson was solicitor general during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and his wife died on board the plane that was used to crash into the Pentagon. In 2023, Olson wrote in an op-ed that the U.S. should conclude the criminal cases of the remaining defendants. Citing the complicated nature of death penalty cases, as well as the fact that many of the convictions already secured had been partially or fully overturn by appeals courts, he publicly encouraged the government to offer sentences of life in prison.[28][29]

Personal life[edit]

Olson has been married four times. His first marriage was to Karen Beatie whom he met in college at the University of the Pacific.[30] Olson's second wife was Jolie Ann Bales, an attorney and a liberal Democrat.[30] Olson's third wife,[31] Barbara Kay Olson (née Bracher), an attorney and conservative commentator, was a passenger aboard the hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 that crashed into a sector of the Pentagon on his birthday, September 11, 2001. Her original plan was to fly to California on September 10, but she delayed her departure until the next morning so she could wake up with her husband on his birthday.[32][33] Before she died, she called her husband to warn him about the flight. Some of the phone call was recorded and can still be heard.[34] On October 21, 2006, Olson married Lady Evelyn Booth, a tax attorney from Kentucky and a lifelong Democrat.[31][35]


Olson was a founding member of the Federalist Society.[36] He has served on the board of directors of American Spectator magazine.[37] Olson was a prominent critic of Bill Clinton's presidency, and he helped prepare the attorneys of Paula Jones prior to their Supreme Court appearance.[5] Olson served on Rudy Giuliani's 2008 presidential campaign as its judicial committee chairman.[36] In 2012 he participated in Paul Ryan's preparation for the vice presidential debate, portraying Joe Biden.[38] He is one of the outspoken advocates for gay marriage in the Republican Party.[39]

Executive appointment speculation[edit]

Prior to President Bush's nomination of D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge John G. Roberts, Olson was considered a potential nominee to the Supreme Court of the United States to fill Sandra Day O'Connor's post. Following the withdrawal of Harriet Miers' nomination for that post, and prior to the nomination of Third Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Samuel Alito, Olson's name was again mentioned as a possible nominee.

In September 2007, Olson was considered by the Bush administration for the post of Attorney General to succeed Alberto Gonzales. The Democrats, however, were so vehemently opposed that Bush nominated Michael Mukasey instead.[40]


Olson, who served as Reagan's assistant attorney general from 1981 to 1983, recommended that Reagan invoke executive privilege to prevent a Democrat-led investigation into the scandal-ridden Superfund program.[41] These claims ultimately proved to be false, in large part.[41] In the end, it was Olson's mistakes that led to the departure of Reagan's appointed Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Anne Gorsuch Burford. As a result, Reagan's plan to reform environmental policy was derailed indefinitely.[41]

In the 1980s, Olson provided evasive answers to questions asked by the Congress about the scandal.[41] He was then investigated by an independent counsel for allegedly providing false testimony to Congress, which some have termed as perjury, in an effort to conceal his own wrongdoing.[41] The investigation ended with the independent counsel ruling that Olsen's testimony was "misleading and disingenuous".[41]

Olson was a prominent figure in the Arkansas Project, which used the tax-exempt American Spectator to transfer over $2 million to private investigators digging out anti-Clinton trash.[42][43] He suggested that officials of the Clinton administration were involved in illegal activities and compared the White House to a Mafia family in anonymous pieces for the Spectator.[42]

Ted Olson has been challenging tribal gaming law, i.e., California's Proposition 5, since 1998.[44][45] In January 2022, Olson began representing Maverick Gaming, a Las Vegas-based, in a challenge to gaming compacts in Washington state that gave exclusivity to more than a dozen Washington tribes for sports betting.[46] The case has been described as a threat to tribal sovereignty and may potentially result in a return to Termination Era policies of the 1950s.[47] After participating as a defendant, the Shoalwater Bay Tribe filed a move to dismiss the case in October 2022.[48] In February 2023, the case was dismissed by David Estudillo, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.[48]


  1. ^ Olson, Theodore B.; Boies, David (June 17, 2014). Redeeming the Dream: The Case for Marriage Equality. Penguin. ISBN 9780698135369 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ Lewis, Neil A. (February 15, 2001). "Man in the News: Prize Job for a Bush Rescuer, Theodore Bevry Olson". The New York Times.
  3. ^ "StackPath". fedsoc.org. Retrieved December 30, 2019.
  4. ^ "Ted Olson". Biography. A&E Television Networks. Archived from the original on September 20, 2012. Retrieved October 11, 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d Tapper, Jake (November 19, 2000). "Boies vs. Olson: A Look at the Two Legal Titans Behind the Gore and Bush Teams". Salon. Retrieved April 27, 2009.
  6. ^ "Solicitor General: Theodore B. Olson". www.justice.gov. October 23, 2014. Retrieved December 30, 2019.
  7. ^ Fisher, Louis (January 1, 1989). "Congressional access to executive branch information: Lessons from Iran-Contra". Government Information Quarterly. 6 (4): 383–394. doi:10.1016/0740-624X(89)90005-1. ISSN 0740-624X.
  8. ^ "oyez html5 player". September 24, 2015. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved December 30, 2019.
  9. ^ Conason, Bill (February 6, 2001). "Ted Olson? You've Got to Be Kidding: How Does Bush Expect to 'Raise the Tone' in Washington by Nominating a Right-Wing Celebrity and Kenneth Starr Pal as Solicitor General?". Salon. Archived from the original on May 30, 2009. Retrieved April 27, 2009.
  10. ^ "Still Searching". The Texas Observer. June 7, 2002. Retrieved March 7, 2021.
  11. ^ Greenhouse, Linda (March 19, 2002). "Widow Argues for Right to Sue Officials (Published 2002)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 7, 2021.
  12. ^ "Supreme Court: Harbury Case". NPR.org. Retrieved March 7, 2021.
  13. ^ a b c Mears, Bill (May 22, 2006). "Deal in Wen Ho Lee Case May Be Imminent". CNN. Retrieved November 7, 2008.
  14. ^ Kuriloff, Aaron (May 6, 2011). "Players' Lawyer Ted Olson Calls NFL Lockout Abuse of Monopoly". Bloomberg News. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  15. ^ Breer, Albert (June 3, 2011). "NFL, players state lockout cases; court to rule in 'due course'". NFL.com. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  16. ^ Williams, Carol J. (May 26, 2009). "Bush vs. Gore Rivals Challenge Prop. 8 in Federal Court". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 26, 2009.
  17. ^ Klein, Joe (April 29, 2010). "David Boies and Theodore Olson". The 2010 Time 100. Time. Archived from the original on May 2, 2010. Retrieved May 1, 2010.
  18. ^ Gaul, Patricia. "David Boies, Theodore B. Olson to Receive American Bar Association Medal for 2011" (Press release). American Bar Association. Archived from the original on March 20, 2012. Retrieved September 6, 2011.
  19. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
  20. ^ "2014 Summit Highlights Photo". Eminent defense counsels and Academy members Brendan Sullivan, David Boies, Ted Olson and Barry Scheck.
  21. ^ Dolan, Maura; Kim, Victoria (February 18, 2016). "Apple-FBI fight over iPhone encryption pits privacy against national security". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 20, 2016.
  22. ^ "Ted Olson Sees Glimmer of Hope For Tom Brady Appeal". CBS. May 25, 2016. Retrieved June 7, 2016.
  23. ^ Orr, Conor (July 15, 2016). "Tom Brady won't further pursue suspension appeal". National Football League. Retrieved July 15, 2016.
  24. ^ Reyes, Lorenzo (July 15, 2016). "Tom Brady announces he won't fight Deflategate suspension further in court". USA Today. Retrieved July 15, 2016.
  25. ^ "United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit" (PDF). Retrieved June 16, 2024.
  26. ^ "Star GOP lawyer Theodore B. Olson declines offer to join Trump legal team". Washington Post.
  27. ^ Liptak, Adam (September 26, 2019). "Theodore Olson, Conservative Stalwart, to Represent 'Dreamers' in Supreme Court". New York Times.
  28. ^ Olson, Theodore B. (February 2, 2023). "Opinion | The U.S. Must Resolve the Cases of the Guantanamo Detainees". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved February 21, 2023.
  29. ^ "NEW VOICES: Ted Olson, Solicitor General in the Bush Administration, Calls for End to Guantánamo Death Penalty Cases". Death Penalty Information Center. Retrieved February 21, 2023.
  30. ^ a b Grove, Lloyd (June 27, 2015). "The Surprising Republican Hero Of Same-Sex Marriage". Retrieved August 15, 2019.
  31. ^ a b Argetsinger, Amy & Roberts, Roxanne (October 22, 2006). "Napa Nuptials for Olson and His Lady". The Reliable Source. The Washington Post. Retrieved August 19, 2009.
  32. ^ "What Barbara Olson Knew" (YouTube). CNN. April 7, 2008. Archived from the original on December 11, 2021.
  33. ^ drjamesfetzer (January 4, 2010). "Pentagon Explosion, No Flight 77: TED OLSON on Barbara: "Its impossible to think of her as Gone"". Archived from the original on May 1, 2013 – via YouTube.
  34. ^ "The 9/11 Commission Report" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on September 12, 2017. Retrieved March 3, 2021.
  35. ^ Parker, Ashley (August 18, 2010). "When Opposites Influence". The New York Times. Retrieved August 20, 2010.
  36. ^ a b Oliphant, James (September 6, 2007). "Giuliani Hitches Star to Conservative Legal Group". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved October 27, 2008.
  37. ^ Broder, Jonathan (April 24, 1998). "American Spectator Audit: Is the Fox Guarding the Henhouse?". Salon. Archived from the original on October 20, 2007. Retrieved April 27, 2009.
  38. ^ Sonmez, Felicia (September 15, 2012). "Paul Ryan Taps Ted Olson to Play Biden in Debate Prep". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 6, 2012.
  39. ^ Totenberg, Nina (December 6, 2010). "Ted Olson, Gay Marriage's Unlikely Legal Warrior". NPR.
  40. ^ "Behind the Slander: Olson Played Hardball – But So Did the Dems". U-T San Diego. September 18, 2007. Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. Retrieved September 18, 2007.
  41. ^ a b c d e f Neiwert, David (May 14, 2001). "The first Ted Olson scandal". Salon.
  42. ^ a b Conason, Joe (February 6, 2001). "Ted Olson? You've got to be kidding". Salon.
  43. ^ Conason, Joe (April 5, 2001). "Ted Olson's anti-Clinton past". Salon.
  44. ^ "Why Gibson Dunn's 'Best Interest of the Child' Has a Dark Side". news.bloomberglaw.com.
  45. ^ "State High Court Overturns Indian Gaming Initiative". Los Angeles Times. August 24, 1999.
  46. ^ Holden, John (January 12, 2022). "Analysis: Washington Sports Betting Challenged By Maverick Gaming".
  47. ^ "Experts Say Lawsuits Pose Greatest Threat to Tribes in Decades". www.underscore.news.
  48. ^ a b "Court dismisses Maverick Gaming lawsuit challenging Washington tribal sports gaming | Washington State". www.atg.wa.gov.


External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by Solicitor General of the United States
Succeeded by