John Roberts helped on gay-rights case





Supreme Court nominee John Roberts worked behind the scenes for a coalition of gay-rights activists, and his legal expertise helped them persuade the Supreme Court to issue a landmark 1996 ruling protecting people against discrimination because of their sexual orientation.

Then a lawyer specializing in appellate work, the conservative Roberts helped represent the gay activists as part of his law firm's pro bono work. While he did not write the legal briefs or argue the case before the Supreme Court, he was instrumental in reviewing the filings and preparing oral arguments, according to several lawyers involved in the case.

The coalition won its case, 6-3, in what gay activists described at the time as the movement's most important legal victory. The three dissenting justices were those to whom Roberts is frequently likened for their conservative ideology: Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

Roberts' work on behalf of gay activists, whose cause is anathema to many conservatives, appears to illustrate his allegiance to the credo of the legal profession: to zealously represent the interests of the client, whoever it might be.

There is no other record of Roberts being involved in gay-rights cases that would suggest his position on such issues. He has stressed, however, that a client's views are not necessarily shared by the lawyer who argues on his or her behalf.

The lawyer who asked for his help on the case, Walter Smith Jr., then head of the pro bono department at Hogan & Hartson, said Roberts didn't hesitate. "He said, 'Let's do it.' And it's illustrative of his open-mindedness, his fair-mindedness. He did a brilliant job," Smith said.

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