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Apr 21 2014

The Personal is the Political is the Legal

One of the revelations in a much-criticized book about the history of the fight for marriage equality (Andrew Sullivan, who really did play a huge role in that history, has rightly slammed the book for ignoring everything prior to 2008) is that the attorney who defended Prop 8 has a gay daughter and is now planning her wedding.

The conservative lawyer who defended California’s ban on gay marriage at the Supreme Court is at work on another project: planning his daughter’s upcoming same-sex wedding ceremony.

Charles J. Cooper, a former top official in the Reagan Justice Department and onetime “Republican lawyer of the year,” learned of his daughter’s sexual orientation during the legal battle over California’s Proposition 8, according to journalist Jo Becker’s soon-to-be-released book chronicling the movement to legalize same-sex marriage.

Ashley Lininger became engaged to a woman identified in the book only as Casey just after the Supreme Court accepted the Proposition 8 case in December 2012. Cooper, a noted Supreme Court practitioner, argued the case in March 2013…

Cooper told Becker that he did not think it appropriate to comment on how he would vote on the issue should he have the opportunity.

“What I will say only is that my views evolve on issues of this kind the same way as other people’s do, and how I view this down the road may not be the way I view it now, or how I viewed it 10 years ago,” Cooper is quoted as saying…

Lininger lives in Massachusetts, the first state to legalize same-sex marriage and now one of 17, in addition to the District of Columbia, where the unions are legal. She did not want to be interviewed for this story. Cooper said the same, although he offered a statement:

“My family is typical of families all across America. We love each other; we stand up for each other; and we pray for, and rejoice in, each other’s happiness. My daughter Ashley’s path in life has led her to happiness with a lovely young woman named Casey, and our family and Casey’s family are looking forward to celebrating their marriage in just a few weeks.”

He added: “As Becker reports in her book, I told Ashley that what matters most is that I love her and she loves me.”

And that is the correct response to the daughter, of course. But at the very same time, he was actively fighting to deny that same right to marry to millions of others. I don’t know how anyone deals with that kind of cognitive — and moral — dissonance. What about other people’s daughters and sons? Don’t they matter?

21 comments

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  1. 1
    Kevin Kehres

    Why no. No, they don’t. Not when there are hours to be billed.

    Lots and lots of lovely billable hours. How do you think they can afford a nice lavish gay wedding?

  2. 2
    laurentweppe

    What about other people’s daughters and sons? Don’t they matter?

    Of course they don’t: sexual and matrimonial freedom are privileges meant to be exclusively enjoyed by patrician families. Plebeians are beasts of burden and fucktoys whose existence is entirely devoted to the comfort and pleasure of their parasitic lords and masters; the “institution” of marriage being merely a pavlovian incentive to produce more obedient workers and pets.

  3. 3
    Raging Bee

    I’m kinda torn on this: on the one hand, it does seem pretty hypocritical of Cooper to defend a law that would criminalize a marriage he clearly wanted for his own daughter; OTOH, would we call a criminal defense lawyer a hypocrite if he did his job even though he had a daughter who could become a victim of crime?

    Lawyers, and the adversary system, are necessary for the protection of our rights; so we shouldn’t be too quick to demonize them or accuse them of “cognitive — and moral — dissonance.”

  4. 4
    steve84

    Cooper has long history of anti-gay activism, long before Prop 8. He argued that people could be fired for being HIV+ and he defended Colorado’s Amendment 2 (which was struck down in Romer v. Evans). I think he was also involved in the Hawaii case that started the same-sex marriage movement in the US in 1993.

    Otherwise, he is a typical Republican. A complete lack of empathy and care unless something affects himself. He probably still doesn’t give a shit about one but his daughter. He is disgusting.

  5. 5
    doublereed

    I don’t know which is more horrible. That, or the reverse: where you fight for it to be legal but then hate your own daughter personally.

    Frankly, both rather sicken me.

  6. 6
    colnago80

    Re Raging Bee @ #3

    Bee is correct. For instance, if lawyers only defended miscreants in court who they believed to be innocent, the system would break down. Every defendant is entitled to a competent defense.

    A couple of comments by prominent lawyers. Louis Nizer was once approached by members of a pro-Nazi party to defend them in a criminal trial. He responded that he would be willing to do so but would only take payment if he lost the case. Alan Dershowitz once said that, if he had been a lawyer at the time and Schickelgruber had been taken alive and put on trial for war crimes, he would have defended him and gotten him off.

  7. 7
    eric

    I don’t know how anyone deals with that kind of cognitive — and moral — dissonance. What about other people’s daughters and sons? Don’t they matter?

    To me it seems pretty typical of the human condition (the inconsistency). Natural, even. Viewing such behavior as cognitive dissonance and a mental problem is a modern western idea – expecting humans to treat ALL humans the same regardless of family ties, tribe, race, sex, etc… is a relatively new idea. It is thankfully becoming more of the norm, but let’s not kid ourselves – historically, liberal equality is the outlier in human behavior, not the norm. Out of the several hundred thousand years of human existence, it’s been popular in, what, maybe the last couple hundred years?

    People make all sorts of mental categorizations and have rules for different categories. Many of these rules conflict; when someone fits in multiple categories, one set of rules has to trump another. For most people and in most times and places, “treat family/tribe better than others” seems to trump “treat all humans morally or ethically equivalently.” I am not committing the naturalistic fallicy here – I am not saying the former should trump the latter. I’m only saying that it’s quite common for it to do so. Should we point out the hypocrisy? Yes. Should we seek to change it? Yes. Should we be surprised by it? No.

  8. 8
    steve84

    You are confusing people with laws. People deserve a defense. Laws don’t always. There are entirely different things.

  9. 9
    Modusoperandi

    I don’t know how anyone deals with that kind of cognitive — and moral — dissonance.

    You were a debater, right?*

     
    * Excerpt from Ed Brayton: Moral Attorney (NBC, 1995-1995, 2 episodes),
    “Your Honor, we all know that my client is guilty. I rest my case.”

  10. 10
    John Pieret

    If the book is correct that Cooper learned of his daughter’s sexual orientation during the Prop 8 case, then he was right to continue to represent his clients even if that made him feel differently about SSM. You don’t abandon your clients because you’ve changed your mind about the merits of their case. If he continues to represent anti-marriage equality clients or contributes to their causes or otherwise works against SSM, then he has serious cognitive and moral dissonance

  11. 11
    Raging Bee

    To me it seems pretty typical of the human condition (the inconsistency).

    Where’s the inconsistency? He has his opinions, and his dealings with his family; and he also has his job as a lawyer, which he’s expected to do regardless of his personal opinions. The law supercedes his personal feelings, and if the law is either repealed or ruled unconstitutional, then that, too, supercedes his personal feelings.

    People deserve a defense. Laws don’t always.

    The law was passed by elected officials. If a law is challenged on its constitutionality, then we, the people, deserve a proper debate on that subject before it is overturned; just as we, the people, deserve a proper trial before depriving someone of life, limb or liberty.

  12. 12
    steve84

    The law was passed by a rabid mob. Not by the legislature.

  13. 13
    lofgren

    I think the very question is unfair to the lawyer. He probably does think that other people’s children matter. He probably also thinks that going through the process of passing, defending, and overturning prop 8 matters. Matters a lot, I would argue. These ongoing debates can be seen as a national conversation on gay rights in general and marriage specifically. Just because you know where you stand doesn’t mean you don’t have an obligation to engage in the conversation.

    I put this question to my father who took some morally questionable clients during the ’80s and ’90s. His response was that the practice and reputation he cultivated as a lobbyist was for relentless and uncompromising honesty. He wouldn’t rely on any talking point he didn’t believe in, nor cite a study he didn’t trust, nor deny any facts he was aware of. As he saw it, if he was committed and honest and lost the argument anyway, then so be it. That’s the nature of politics and an essential feature of self-governance, freedom, and the adversarial system. And what is the alternative for his clients? Maybe they get an incompetent lobbyist, which isn’t really fair, or they get a dishonest lobbyist which isn’t fair either. Or they get another honest lobbyist and the conversation is simply had without him.

    I go back and forth on my father’s position. Sometimes I think it is naive and sometimes I think it is honorable and often I think it is both. It put food on my plate and a roof over my head and started a college fund for my daughter, so I try not to be too harsh on him.

    Maybe this lawyer feels similarly to my father. If he mounts the best case he can and loses, so be it. But everybody deserves to have their best case presented in court. Anything less just isn’t fair, and does more to stall the national conversation than to move it forward.

  14. 14
    Modusoperandi

    steve84 “The law was passed by a rabid mob. Not by the legislature.”
    Obviously. Still, it’s hard to distinguish one zebra from another.

  15. 15
    abb3w

    He’s a lawyer. From what I’ve heard, if you can’t learn to sleep at nights after giving a vigorous but honest defense of a vile client, you tend not to make it through the first year of law school.

  16. 16
    eric

    @11 (and @13)

    Where’s the inconsistency?

    I was responding to Ed’s charge. If you think there’s nothing to it, take it up with Ed.

    Second, the inconsistency would be in choosing to defend something he personally believes is wrong, when there was no ethical reason to do it. Yes, I agree with you, society is best served when important points of law get a rigiorous legal trial with competent lawyers on both sides. But this is also not Nuremberg where no lawyer is “really” on the side of the Nazis and thus some good lawyers may feel compelled out of a sense of legal ethics to defend something they personally see as indefensible. In this case, it would’ve been trivially easy for the Prop 8 folks to find legal representation that agreed with them. And Cooper must have known that. So I don’t necessarily put much weight on the argument that this was him nobly defending the legal process. There was no need to do it; the legal process would’ve worked just fine without him having to defend something he didn’t believe in, and we all know it, because there are literally hundreds of millions of same sex opposers and amongst them, undoubtedly, some very good constitutional law lawyers.

  17. 17
    Modusoperandi

    eric “I was responding to Ed’s charge.”
    I read about Ed’s Charge. Quite the epic battle, it was, even though Ed was the only one on the one side. Plus he was riding a miniature pony. Plus he didn’t know how to ride. Still, it would have turned the tide of the war, had there been a war on at the time.

  18. 18
    paul

    Lawyers who let morals or integrity interfere with their work can end up severely penalized or even disbarred. There is a reason why lawyers are scum–they’re not allowed to not be.

  19. 19
    Raging Bee

    So I don’t necessarily put much weight on the argument that this was him nobly defending the legal process

    I didn’t say he was “nobly” anything; I said he was a lawyer doing his job within the system.

    There was no need to do it; the legal process would’ve worked just fine without him having to defend something he didn’t believe in, and we all know it, because there are literally hundreds of millions of same sex opposers and amongst them, undoubtedly, some very good constitutional law lawyers.

    True — but any lawyer can use the same excuse to back out of a job, because every lawyer will always have another lawyer to punt to. And the more lawyers punt, the fewer lawyers there will be to receive the punts.

    Seriously, if there’s a case that needs lawyers on both sides, why should one qualified lawyer be considered less obligated to work the case than another?

    Lawyers who let morals or integrity interfere with their work can end up severely penalized or even disbarred.

    Citation needed for that bit of lazy, stupid lawyer-bashing.

  20. 20
    lofgren

    I’d like to see a rational argument for why it’s moral to argue a point you don’t agree with when nobody else will do it, but immoral to do so when somebody else would. That seems far more inconsistent than anything Cooper has done.

  21. 21
    brucegee1962

    There is a way to say that you have had a change of heart. If he’d said, “I now realize that Proposition 8 was wrong, and I’m sorry I defended it,” or even, “I defended Proposition 8 because it was my job as a lawyer to do so,” I might have had some respect for the guy. But this: “What I will say only is that my views evolve on issues of this kind the same way as other people’s do, and how I view this down the road may not be the way I view it now, or how I viewed it 10 years ago,”

    this is the Way of the Weasel.

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