Washington (CNN) - A pending Justice Department vacancy may not generate as much interest as the soon-to-be open Supreme Court seat, but Elena Kagan's rise to the nation's top bench would leave a vacancy in her current job.
Government sources tell CNN two of the leading contenders for solicitor general are White House lawyer Donald Verrilli and Kagan's deputy, Neal Katyal.
The solicitor general represents the federal government's interests before the Supreme Court, and is part of the Justice Department. Kagan was
nominated to the high court Monday to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens. The White House says she is still in charge of pending cases but will not take on new ones as she prepares for Senate confirmation hearings.
Much of the office's workload will fall to Katyal, 40, who came to the job from Georgetown Law Center. While there he represented a number of foreign prisoners held at the Guantanamo Bay military detention center.
He has argued several cases before the justices in the past year.
As a government lawyer, he unsuccessfully defended a federal law designed to stop the sale and marketing of videos showing dog fights and other acts of animal cruelty. The high court rejected the government's position in an 8-1 decision, saying the statute was an overbroad and unconstitutional violation of free speech.
While a private practitioner, he successfully won a key 2006 case that gave suspected terror suspects the right to challenge their detention in American courts, a blow to the Bush administration's policies in the war on terrorism. The justices strongly limited the power of the U.S. government to conduct military tribunals for hundreds of foreign prisoners. Katyal represented Salim Hamdan, a Yemeni native accused of being Osama bin Laden's driver and bodyguard.
Verrilli previously was associate deputy attorney general, and had testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee alongside Kagan last year, during their dual confirmation hearings.
Before joining the administration, he was a longtime private lawyer, focusing on business and copyright cases. He represented the Recording Industry of America in its lawsuit against a Minnesota woman who was accused of illegally downloading music files online. That case is still pending in the federal courts.
He also represented MGM Studios in the so-called "Grokster" case on illegal downloads, which reached the high court in 2005. The justices unanimously concluded software companies operating peer-to-peer networks could be held liable for providing file-sharing technology to customers who then download copyrighted material.
Among those who have served as solicitor general are William Howard Taft (later president), Charles Evans Hughes (later chief justice), and Robert Jackson and Thurgood Marshall (later Supreme Court justices), as well as prominent attorneys Robert Bork, Ken Starr and Theodore Olson.