Student Clinic Works to Prepare Historic Proposition 8 Case for High Court
When the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments next week surrounding the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, Yale Law students who have worked diligently on one pivotal case challenging California’s Proposition 8 will be watching closely.
Since the legal battle began in 2009, students from Yale Law School’s San Francisco Affirmative Litigation Project (SFALP) have been assisting the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office on the case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, which has the potential to have wide-reaching ramifications across the country. The New York Times recently ran an in-depth piece describing the City’s efforts.
Adam Grogg ’10, the 2012–13 SFALP Fellow, said that this year an unprecedented twenty SFALP students worked on Perry, conducting legal research to help inform the City’s merits brief before the Supreme Court and engaging in strategic discussions with San Francisco Deputy City Attorneys to help them decide how to approach certain issues. Students also helped edit the final brief and assisted the City in understanding and coordinating the amicus filings.
“I can safely speak for all of us when I say that the value of the experience is indescribable. Through our work on Perry, we've been granted a unique perspective on what it takes to litigate a major civil rights case from start to (almost) finish,” said Grogg, who was a student member of SFALP from 2008–10. During that time, he helped San Francisco litigate Perry’s predecessors in the California state courts and assisted with the landmark trial in Perry itself. This year, he has worked as SFALP Fellow to maximize opportunities for students to contribute to the case as it comes to the Supreme Court.
“The learning hasn't been ‘merely’ practical; the case and the San Francisco City Attorney's role in it have provided ample provocation for considering the proper role of local government law offices,” added Grogg. “To say that these experiences will serve us well in our legal careers is an understatement.”
Grogg will be present on Tuesday, March 26, 2013, when the Court hears argument on whether to overturn a lower federal court’s renunciation of Proposition 8, by which California voters amended their state constitution to define marriage as only between one man and one woman. Justices will also be examining whether the Court has jurisdiction to reach that question.
For current students, the opportunity to be a part of such a historic case has been a remarkable experience.
Julie Veroff ’15, a first-year law student who is part of the clinic, said she was both excited and nervous when she learned the Supreme Court had decided to hear two cases involving marriage equality. “I remember the moment I saw the New York Times news alert on my phone announcing that the Supreme Court would hear both cases. I was in the YLS library, and was just floored with excitement,” Veroff said. “I feel deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to contribute to such a momentous case, and to learn from the talented and inspiring attorneys at the City Attorney's Office.”
Josh Bendor ’13 also recounts mixed emotions when realizing the case would be taken up by the high court. “I'll admit to being both disappointed and excited. If the Court hadn't heard the case, same-sex couples across California would have been able to marry again, and sooner,” Bendor said. “Now, that right is up in the air. At the same time, it's exciting to work on a case on such a big stage.”
Bendor said he counts himself lucky for having the opportunity to work on an issue he cares deeply about and that also presents fascinating legal issues. “Perry is about defending the Constitution's guarantee of equality,” said Bendor. “Proposition 8, the law Perry challenges, didn't change the fact that same-sex couples in California have the same rights and responsibilities as opposite-sex married couples. Rather, it just branded gay couples as inferior by taking away the legal recognition of their marriages. Our Constitution forbids this, as well it should.”
Working on this case has also shaped the way students think about their future legal careers, said Bryn Williams ’14, a member of SFALP since 2012. “Being able to play a hands-on role in advancing the cause of marriage equality has been one of the most rewarding experiences I've had at Yale Law School,” said Williams. “But knowing that the civil rights of my friends and family are on the line in this case has been a sobering experience and has driven home the fact that legal practice is not a responsibility to be taken lightly.”
Many other students were involved in working on the case, including Alex Roth ’13, Ben Moskowitz ’15, Beth Ford ’15, Danny Randolph ’15, David Louk ’14, Grant Damon ’14, Jessica Martinez ’14, John Lewis ’14, Jon Soleimani ‘13, Jonathan Meltzer ’13, Raph Graybill ’15, Spencer Amdur ’13, Steven Kochevar ’14, Tina Thomas ’14, Webb Lyons ’14, Yael Shavit ’13, and Zach Arnold ’15.
The work of prior SFALP Fellows, including Theresa Lee '10, Kaitlin Ainsworth '10, and Jill Habig '09, also helped pave the way for current students to have this experience.
Professor Heather Gerken, J. Skelly Wright Professor of Law and SFALP’s faculty advisor, said the hardworking SFALP students will benefit tremendously from working on Perry.
“Because of our unique relationship to the City's extraordinary litigation group, Yale students were the only students in the country who had an experience like this,” Gerken said. “From start to finish, they've been able to work on the ‘trial of the century’ with some of the best litigators in the country. Perhaps no one deserves such an experience. But if any group of students does, it's the SFALP students. They are wonderful, and they've already started to make a difference in the world."
For Grogg, being a part of this case has emphasized the fundamental importance that the issue of marriage equality holds—not just for a small group, but for the entire country.
“Over time, it's been fascinating to see firsthand the relationship between what's happened in court in Perry and what's happening in the political and public opinion landscapes with regard to marriage equality,” Grogg said. “It’s apparent that marriage equality isn't a niche cause. Rather, it's a civil rights issue that inspires activism on the part of many who don't seem to have an obvious personal stake. It's humbling.”
On Wednesday, March 27, 2013, at 4 p.m. in room 128, SFALP and the YLS OutLaws are co-sponsoring a forum to discuss the March 26 oral argument in Perry and the potential outcomes of the Supreme Court’s decision with Professor Bill Eskridge, Professor Gerken, and Grogg.
Past coverage of SFALP’s involvement in Perry can be found at: