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John Elwood is the head of the firm's Appellate and Supreme Court practice. He has argued ten cases before the Supreme Court of the United States and appeared before most of the federal courts of appeals. He has successfully argued cases across a broad cross-section of subjects, with particular experience in environmental law, administrative law, the False Claims Act, and federal criminal law.

John represented the petitioners before the Supreme Court in Kellogg Brown & Root v. United States ex rel. Carter, involving False Claims Act whistleblower issues and in both Counterman v. Colorado and Elonis v. United States, considering the intersection of free speech, social media and criminal threat statutes. The Court ruled for his clients in all three cases. John also has won mandamus three times, successfully invoking attorney-client privilege to protect from disclosure internal investigation documents generated under corporate compliance programs.

John's work has earned him recognition as one of Washington's top Supreme Court lawyers (Washingtonian), as one of "a small group of lawyers" with an "outsized influence at the U.S. Supreme Court" (Reuters), as one of "the most successful petitioning attorneys" before the Supreme Court between 2012 and 2015 (Villanova Law Review), and as one of the country's most innovative lawyers (Financial Times). Chambers USA reports that "[t]he much-admired John Elwood is praised for his advocacy skills", and describes him as "phenomenal", a "brilliant writer", and "a much-loved and widely respected lawyer who is quick on his feet."

John brings a wealth of experience to his role, having served as a former Assistant to the U.S. Solicitor General and Senior Deputy in the Office of Legal Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice (2005-2009). He also clerked for Justice Anthony Kennedy (1996-1997).

He is a frequent contributor to SCOTUSblog, the premier Supreme Court blog.


  • Counterman v. Colorado, 600 U.S. ___ (2023).  In a closely watched case involving alleged threats made on Facebook, successfully argued that the First Amendment requires proof that the defendant in a threats case has subjective understanding of his statements’ threatening nature, rejecting the rule adopted by most appellate courts.
  • Kellogg Brown & Root v. United States ex rel. Carter, 575 U.S. 650 (2015).Successfully argued that the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act does not toll the statute of limitations in civil False Claims Act cases; persuaded Supreme Court to grant review on issue despite the absence of a circuit split and after the United States, in a Court-invited amicus brief, argued that certiorari should be denied.
  • Elonis v. United States, 575 U.S. 723 (2015). Successfully argued that federal criminal threats statute required proof that the defendant had culpable mental state, invalidating negligence standard employed by most federal courts of appeals.
  • Rosemond v. United States, 572 U.S. 65 (2014). Successfully argued that aiding and abetting liability requires proof defendant had advance notice of alleged confederate's plans.
  • Nevada Commission on Ethics v. Carrigan, 564 U.S. 117 (2011). Successfully argued that conflict of interest rules governing state officials do not infringe First Amendment speech rights.
  • Henderson v. United States, 575 U.S. 622 (2015). Persuaded the Supreme Court to grant review in a case involving restrictions the on the transfer of firearms by persons convicted of criminal offense; co-authored brief that won unanimous ruling that court-ordered transfer of firearms did not constituted possession prohibited by statute.
  • Borough of Duryea v. Guarnieri, 564 U.S. 379 (2011). Author of a brief that successfully argued that a government employer's allegedly retaliatory actions against an employee do not give rise to liability under the First Amendment's Petition Clause, unless the employee's petition relates to a matter of public concern.

Argued While an Assistant to the Solicitor General

  • Castle Rock v. Gonzales, 545 U.S. 748 (2005). Successfully argued that the holder of a restraining order lacks a procedural due process right to enforce the order.
  • Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652 (2004). Successfully argued that, on habeas review, courts need not consider a suspect's age and previous law-enforcement history when determining his entitlement to Miranda warnings.
  • Central Laborers' Pension Fund v. Heinz, 541 U.S. 739 (2004). Argued that a pension fund had complied with the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) when it temporarily disqualified certain pension holders from receiving benefits.
  • National Park Hospitality Assn. v. Dept. of the Interior, 538 U.S. 803 (2003). Successfully argued that a government contracting case brought under the Contract Disputes Act was not ripe for judicial resolution.
  • Whitman v. Department of Transportation, 547 U.S. 512 (2006). Principal author of brief arguing that the Civil Service Reform Act did not permit suit for certain employment grievances.
  • Raytheon v. Hernandez, 540 U.S. 44 (2003). Principal author of amicus brief arguing that the Americans with Disabilities Act permits employers to take adverse action because of misconduct related to drug or alcohol addiction.
  • Chavez v. Martinez, 538 U.S. 760 (2003). Principal author of amicus brief arguing that a suspect's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination is not violated unless his coerced statements are used against him in a criminal case.
  • Ewing v. California, 538 U.S. 11 (2003). Principal author of amicus brief defending the constitutionality of California's "Three Strikes" sentencing law.


The Legal 500 US
"Leading Lawyers" Appellate: Courts of Appeals / Appellate: Supreme Courts (States and Federal) (2022-2024)
Appellate: Courts of Appeals / Appellate: Supreme Courts (States and Federal) (2010-2022)
Chambers USA
Appellate Law (Nationwide) (2011-2024)
Intellectual Property: Trademark & Copyright (New York) (2020)
Benchmark Litigation
Litigation Star – Appellate (2024)
National Practice Area Star – Appellate (2024)



  • J.D., Yale Law School, Senior Editor, The Yale Law Journal
  • M.A., King's College London, with distinction, first in class
  • A.B., Princeton University, summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa


  • District of Columbia
  • Georgia
  • Supreme Court of the United States
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
  • U.S. District Court, District of Columbia

Government & Military Service

  • Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel, U.S. Department of Justice (2005–2009)
  • Assistant to the Solicitor General, Office of the Solicitor General, U.S. Department of Justice (2002–2005)
  • Counselor to the Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division, U.S. Department of Justice (2001–2002)
  • Attorney, Appellate Section, Criminal Division, U.S. Department of Justice (1994–1996)
  • Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia (1995)


  • Supreme Court of the United States, The Honorable Anthony M. Kennedy
  • The Honorable J. Daniel Mahoney


  • President, Edward Coke Appellate Inn of Court
  • Member, ABA Standing Committee for Amicus Curiae Briefs (2012-2018)
  • Adviser, University of Virginia School of Law Supreme Court Litigation Clinic (2009-2018)
  • Fellow, American Academy of Appellate Lawyers; Litigation Counsel of America
  • Testified before Congress four times on constitutional and statutory issues
  • Adjunct Professor, "Constitutional Law and the Supreme Court," George Washington University School of Law (2001)