Every Friday, we choose an alum who has been making headlines—for better or for worse.
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Donald Verrilli ’79: Defending Obamacare, one cough at a time.

For readers previously unfamiliar with Donald Verrilli ’79, last Saturday’s New York Times profile sketched an impressive portrait.

Former colleagues and opponents told the Times that the US Solicitor General was “ready” to defend the Affordable Care Act—aka Obamacare—in an unprecedented three-day hearing before the US Supreme Court. “He will be able to make the best case for the legislation,” one predecessor said, because he “marshals his positions in clear and understandable terms.” Another called Verrilli “poised, confident, concise and brilliant.”

Fast forward to Monday, the first day of arguments, when justices “needled” Verrilli for calling one of the law’s pillars—a fine on those who refuse to buy health insurance—both a “penalty” and a “tax.” Or to the second day, CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin told Politico: "He was passive. He was stumbling. He was nervous. I was just shocked.” At BuzzFeed, Yalie Zeke Miller ’11 spliced together an audio clip of Verrilli coughing, “uh”ing and repeating himself. (Other observers said Verrilli’s performance wasn’t that bad, and probably won’t affect the case’s outcome.)

On the third day, when it appeared that five justices might be prepared to strike down the entire health care law, Verrilli turned on the passion. The law, he said, will “secure the blessings of liberty” for tens of millions of uninsured Americans.

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