The Case Against Gay Marriage: Top Law Firms Won’t Touch It

Adam Liptak in the NYTimes:

12lawyers-JP-03-master180Representing unpopular clients has a long and proud tradition in American justice, one that experts in legal ethics say is central to the adversarial system. John Adams, the future president, agreed to represent British soldiers accused of murder in the 1770 Boston Massacre. Clarence Darrow defended two union activists who dynamited the Los Angeles Times building in 1910, killing 21 workers. Leading law firms today have lined up to defend detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, some accused of ties to Al Qaeda.

The Supreme Court has said criminal defendants are entitled to a lawyer. There is no right to counsel in civil cases, but most lawyers do not lightly turn away paying clients. Some lawyers, though, have been forced out of their firms for agreeing to take on clients opposed to same-sex marriage.

Whatever the reason, there is a yawning gap between the uniformity of views among legal elites and the more mixed opinions of the American public and the members of the Supreme Court. Polls indicate that while a slim majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, many remain skeptical, and the court’s decision, expected in June, is likely to be closely divided.

In earlier eras, the opposing sides were more evenly matched in landmark civil rights cases. One of the lawyers who argued in favor of segregated public schools in 1953 in Brown v. Board of Education was John W. Davis, a leader of the glittering New York law firm now known as Davis Polk & Wardwell. He was the Democratic nominee for president in 1924, the ambassador to Britain and the solicitor general, and he once held the record for most Supreme Court arguments in the 20th century.

Read the rest here.