Two veteran Supreme Court litigators – former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson and David Boies (twice named Lawyer of the Year by the National Law Journal) – spoke at the Cato Institute on May 18. Their topic was not the National Football League’s labor dispute, in which they are each representing opposing sides, but rather a case on which they serve on the same team.
In May 2009, Olson and Boies – who had earlier represented opposite sides in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2000 presidential election case, Bush v. Gore – together filed suit in the state of California to challenge Proposition 8, a ballot measure from the previous November that prohibited same-sex marriage in that state. In August 2010, federal district judge Vaughn Walker ruled that Prop 8 was unconstitutional; its proponents have appealed the decision.
Observers immediately dubbed the two lawyers an “odd couple,” since it seemed unlikely, on its face, that a conservative Republican like Olson (who had served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush) would join forces with a Democrat like Boies (who represented Al Gore and worked for the late Senator Edward Kennedy on Capitol Hill) to uphold the rights of gay and lesbian individuals to marry.
‘History of discrimination’
It became clear during the panel discussion at the Cato Institute that both Olson and Boies are equally passionate about this issue. Olson noted that the “history of discrimination [against gay people] is quite unpleasant to reflect on,” and that denying individuals the right to marry on the basis of sexual orientation is akin to granting a person all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship but, by dint of his nationality, denying him the right to call himself a citizen.
He pointed out that in the pre-Civil War slave era, slaves were prohibited from marrying because marriage would be a symbol of their independence, and that when emancipation came, slaves rushed to be married because it was a way of asserting their new freedom.
Similarly, Boies asserted that “we all have an interest in protecting individual rights against government discrimination.” He pointed out that his clients and the proponents of Prop 8 both agree that marriage is a fundamental right that has been confirmed 14 times by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Boies said that depriving gay and lesbian citizens of the right to marry seriously harms them and the children they are raising. And, he pointed out, there is no benefit to other people from depriving gay men and lesbians of the right to marry.
After the panel discussion – which also included comments from former White House chief of staff John Podesta and Cato Institute chairman Robert Levy – Ted Olson spoke briefly with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner about the case, which was originally designated Perry v. Schwarzenegger but is now called Perry v. Brown because of the change in governors in California.
With regard to the prospects for the case, which is now stalled in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals while some peripheral matters are being litigated, Olson said, “We hope that we’ll get ultimately to the Supreme Court and have the Supreme Court affirm the rights of gay and lesbian individuals to be treated equally and with decency and dignity, not just in the state of California but everywhere else. The badge of discrimination that’s engraved in the California constitution has to be eliminated.”
He added that the most surprising thing he encountered during the trial was the power of his team’s case.
“We were overwhelmed by the strength of our own case,” Olson said.
“Just to listen to the expert witnesses and to hear the evidence was overwhelming,” he explained. “We had strong convictions about our arguments but the fact that the evidence was so compelling beyond our expectations was very gratifying.”
Boies and Olson predicted that a ruling from the Ninth Circuit will come late this year or in early 2012, and that if the U.S. Supreme Court chooses to hear a further appeal, the high court’s decision is not likely for at least two years.
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