Karlan to Kaplan on Windsor: “You Should Argue The Case”

November 30th, 2015

At the National Law Journal, Zoe Tillman offers some excerpts from her interview with Roberta Kaplan, who argued United States v. Windsor. One of the more revealing exchanges is between Pam Karlan and Roberta Kaplan, who had represented Edie Windsor before the 2nd Circuit. Kaplan was considering giving the case to Karlan. Karlan, in a move evincing profound integrity, told her to keep the case!

NLJ: Eventually, Edith’s case is the one that makes it up to the Supreme Court, and at that point, you had never argued a case in the Supreme Court. Why did you want to do this?

Kaplan: There was a lot of pressure on me not to argue the case. When I started practicing law, there was no such thing as a “SCOTUS bar,” but there is today. And there was a lot of pressure that I should give the case to be argued by someone who was a member of this Supreme Court elite bar.

After thinking about it for a while, I had a call. I called up Pam Karlan, who is a professor at Stanford, who I had brought in to assist on the case the minute we knew we had a chance at getting to the Supreme Court. And I said to her, I said, “Pam, I want you to know I’m thinking about whether or not to argue this case. And I want you to know that if I don’t argue the case, and that if Edie agrees with my recommendation—because ultimately it will be her call—I’m gonna recommend that you argue the case.”

Pam immediately said to me, she said, “Robbie,” she said, “you should argue the case.” She said, “Look, there are things about arguing in the Supreme Court that are different. You will have to learn them. You can learn them. They’re not that hard to learn. And you know this case, and there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t argue it.”

That was a conversation that I will never forget for the rest of my life.

Stunning. How many members of the “Supreme Court Bar” would been so magnanimous, and insist that someone else argue one of the most important cases of the decade? One of my colleagues who argued a Supreme Court case, where he was counsel below, regaled me how other attorneys tried (unsuccessfully) to poach the client.

Kudos to Karlan.