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May 8, 2009

Two lesbian law professors are on Obama’s high court list

Washington, D.C.--Two lesbian Stanford Law School professors are in the running to replace U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter, who is retiring the end of June.

The White House is being coy about names they are considering, refusing to confirm or deny any, but lesbian law professors Kathleen Sullivan and Pamela Karlan are considered contenders.

Within hours of Souter’s announcement, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund posted “Out lesbian a contender for Supreme Court” on its website, floating Sullivan’s name. The group has been screening LGBT applicants and recommending candidates for administration posts since election night 2008.

The New York Times and the National Journal also place Sullivan on a “short list.”

Later, the online political magazine Politico reported that Karlan was also in the running.

Behind the scenes, LGBT advocacy groups are encouraging Obama to appoint an LGBT person to the nation’s highest court. Before the election, LGBT Democrats struck a deal with candidate Obama, arranging a pass on marriage equality in exchange for an LGBT cabinet member.

Obama claims to oppose marriage equality for same-sex couples, touting civil unions as adequate substitutes, with little challenge from LGBT advocates. Though there have been more than 30 LGBT people appointed at various levels to the new administration, none are in the cabinet.

A high court appointment could settle that score.

Sullivan, 53, is currently Stanford’s Stanley Morrison Professor of Law, a position she took following four years as the school’s dean. She also practices appellate litigation for a California law firm.

Sullivan is known as one of the leading authorities in the nation on constitutional law and authored a widely used textbook on the subject.

While a student at Harvard, Laurence Tribe called her “the most extraordinary student I ever had.”

Doing LGBT legal work, Sullivan penned briefs for the 1986 U.S. Supreme Court case Bowers v. Hardwick which upheld sodomy laws, and the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas which overturned Bowers.

Karlan, 54, is Stanford’s Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law.

She is a graduate of Yale Law School, and is considered one of the nation’s top legal minds on matters of voting rights and civil procedure and litigation.

Karlan has worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and was a clerk to Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun.

Karlan also wrote a brief asking the court to declare state sodomy laws unconstitutional in Lawrence v. Texas. Both worked on a 2007 brief urging California’s supreme court to rule in favor of marriage equality.

The federal courts are nearly void of openly LGBT judges, though there are closeted ones. President Clinton appointed lesbian Deborah Batts to the District Court of Manhattan.

Anti-LGBT activists decried Sullivan’s possible nomination as soon as it hit the Victory Fund site. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council told Politico that, “A parallel to that would be Bill Clinton’s gays in the military battle, which really hurt his agenda from that point forward.”




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