A genuine hero of the fight for marriage equality is leaving to champion voter rights. Let’s take a moment to say thank you, and wish her well. Today, Pamela Karlan is On Our Radar.
I imagine everyone reading this will instantly recognize the woman in the photo above, and know exactly when it was taken. That’s Edie Windsor, welcoming the verdict of the Supreme Court the day they ruled on her lawsuit and declared DOMA unconstitutional.
You have probably seen that photo a dozen times, and gotten so lost in Edie’s joy that you may not have even noticed the woman to her right in the dark suit and tasteful pearls. That’s Pamela Karlan, Edie’s lawyer, and a name we should all know. When history is written, Pamela Karlan will be well-remembered as a great hero of the marriage equality movement.
Pamela is often called a lesbian by the mainstream press, and “that damn lesbian” by the conservatives on The Hill, but she describes herself as a snarky bisexual. She clerked for Justice Blackmun, then served as counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. When Justice Souter retired, her name on the short list of well-qualified women candidates gave Senate Republicans heartburn. There is little doubt Pamela Karlan would be an appellate judge today if Harry Reid had pulled the trigger on the nuclear option, and kept Republicans from filibustering judicial appointments, just a few years earlier.
Pam is currently one of the most active members of the Supreme Court Bar – the elite club of lawyers who have argued a case in front of the high court. In fact, she founded Stanford Law School’s Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, where she teaches other lawyers how to stand toe to toe with a grumpy Justice Scalia without cringing – and no doubt other helpful lawyer tricks. The Scalia deflection tecnique is probably just me projecting what I would most want to know.
Pamela is a product of Yale, and Yale Law, and her partner, Viola Canales, went to Harvard and Harvard Law. Viola (left) is a former Army officer, former Clinton Administration member, and author of a novel called The Tequila Worm. Both women are now on the faculty at Stanford, where Viola teaches a course in writing legal fiction. That resume alone should get them onto any A List of dinner party guests. But Pam Karlan is so much more than an overachiever with an interesting life.
What makes Pamela Karlan marked for history, and worthy of our notice today, is that she was the attorney who made the argument that persuaded the Supremes to dismantle DOMA. She wrote the brief. Her words. Her ideas. Her voice. David Boise and Ted Olsen may have been the attorneys who soaked up the media spotlight with their Prop 8 victory, but it was attorney Pam Karlan who toppled the first domino that is now changing the marriage landscape across the country. What happened in Utah this week, (Freakin’ Mormony Utah!) happened because Pamela Karlan convinced the Supreme Court that DOMA unfairly penalized Edie Windsor, and their decision is now precident for federal judges everywhere.
December 20, the Justice Department announced Pamela Karlan has accepted a position as U.S. Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Voting Rights. Unfortunately, it is a position that does not require Senate conformation, so we will not have a Jeff Sessions inquiry to look forward to, asking if she prefers men or women or one of each.
January 1, Pam will become the lead attorney challenging the new voter suppression laws in Texas, North Carolina, and every other state that is trying to keep white conservatives in power, by keeping citizens unlikely to vote for them away from the polls.
Voter suppression is a serious threat to our democracy, and Pam is considered an expert on voting rights. I admit we dearly need her to lead that battle. But the marriage equality struggle will not be the same without her. Though the name Pamela Karlan has surely earned a place in history, it should also be remembered by all of us:
Pamela Karlan. The woman who championed Edie Windsor and changed America.
So as she takes her leave, let’s pause a moment to say thank you to Pamela, and to wish her swift victory in her fight to keep conniving politicians from choosing their voters, rather that allowing voters to do the choosing. Gay right’s loss is Voting Rights gain.
Just don’t stay away too long, Pam.
Today, Pamela Karlan, the woman who dismantled DOMA, is On Our Radar.
Jean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.
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