National LGBT Bar Association

  • August 27, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Lawmakers may help push equality measures for LGBT persons, but at the end of the day if the state and federal courts are made up of rightwing jurists and those beholden to corporate interests, advancements toward equality will likely be an ongoing arduous and fitful slog.

    The health and safety of the LGBT community is “inextricably tied to the health and safety and vigor of our court systems, both federal and state,” said Justice at Stake’s Praveen Fernandes, at an Aug. 24 panel discussion at the National LGBT Bar Association’s 2012 Lavender Law gathering in Washington, D.C. Fernandes, the Director of Federal Affairs and Diversity Initiatives at Justice at Stake, noted that many people concentrate on the role federal courts occupy in legal battles, but that the “vast majority” of law is determined at the state level.

    And on the state level there is an increasing challenge to ensure that judges are independent of special interests. Thirty-nine states elect judges, and an increasing amount of money is flowing into those elections to elect judges inclined to advance corporate interests at the cost to individual rights. Several of the panelists participating in the “Defending the Courts: Why the LGBT Community Should be Particularly Concerned about the Strength and Independence of the Bench,” also noted that judges who uphold or bolster rights for the LGBT community are vulnerable to well-funded efforts to remove them from the bench.

    Judge Mary Celeste of the Denver County Court highlighted one of the more infamous efforts to punish judges who supported equality. 

    “We are talking about defending people who are supportive of LGBT issues. Now is anyone here not aware of what happened in Iowa,” Celeste said, referring to the successful effort to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices who were involved in a 2009 state court ruling that supported same-sex marriages. 

    The effort to oust the three Iowa Supreme Court justices was spearheaded by the American Family Association, a Christian lobbying group, and attracted $948.355 from out-of-state groups. In late 2010 former Arkansas Governor and Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee applauded the effort to remove the Iowa Supreme Court justices, claiming that Iowans were “sick of one branch of government thinking it is more powerful than the other two put together,” the Iowa Independent reported.

  • August 24, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The U.S. Department of Justice has made historic strides in bettering lives of the LGBT community through efforts to promote equality, but Attorney General Eric Holder told an Aug. 23 gathering of the National LGBT Bar Association in Washington, D.C. that he needs the continued involvement, support and passion of its members and other advocates of equality to continue the “momentum.”

    Providing the keynote address at the LGBT Bar Association’s 2012 Annual Lavender Law Conference, Holder did not reveal any new information regarding the DOJ’s efforts to protect the rights and advance equality for LGBT persons, or announce any new initiatives. In an election year that’s hardly surprising, and for this audience, it really did not matter.

    So reciting the DOJ’s and the administration’s well covered efforts was enough for this crowd and sufficient to illicit rounds of ongoing applause. In a speech less than 30 minutes, Holder breezed through the Obama administration’s pro-equality work and provided plaudits for individual lawyers and advocates fighting to advance equality. (See C-SPAN video of Holder's address below the break.)

    “We come together tonight at an exciting moment; thanks to the tireless work of advocates and attorneys in and far beyond this room, our nation has made great strides on the road to LGBT equality and the unfinished struggle to secure civil rights of all Americans,” Holder said. “We can all be proud today,” he continued, “that for the first time in history those who courageously serve this country need no longer hide their sexual orientation. As we approach the one-year anniversary of the end of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ it is worth celebrating the fact that so many brave souls can serve proudly, honorably, honestly, openly and without fear of discharge.”

    Pivoting quickly to another administration action, Holder reminded the audience at the Washington Hilton that the DOJ no longer defends a major, and onerous provision of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, the anti-gay measure signed into law by former President Bill Clinton. (It took awhile for the administration to stop defending the blatantly bigoted law for the executive branch has a tradition of defending the constitutionality of acts of Congress.)

    “We can also take pride in the fact that last year, President Obama and I directed the Justice Department not to defend the constitutionality of Sec. 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act,” Holder said. “Since then we’ve seen an increasing and encouraging number of courts hold this provision unconstitutional.”