ABA-Sponsored LGBT Rights Forum to Feature Session on Post-Kennedy Supreme Court

Pointing to the 50th anniversary this June of the Stonewall riots, the American Bar Association will hold an LGBT rights-focused forum next week in Manhattan featuring a session on litigating LGBT issues before the U.S. Supreme Court after Justice Anthony Kennedy’s departure.

The two-day forum, which will lead up to the start of the ABA’s annual Section of Litigation CLE conference, will provide a range of sessions and speakers including “lawyers at the forefront of LGBT legal issues who have navigated their way to the top of the profession,” according to an ABA news release.

The forum and the conferencewide "plenary" session on the post-Kennedy Supreme Court will be held just a week after the Supreme Court announced that it will decide whether the nation’s major workplace anti-bias law, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, bans workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and transgender status.

The U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Second and Eleventh Circuits have split on the issue, as have the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Trump administration. The EEOC has reportedly said that Title VII’s protections do extend to gay and transgender workers. The Trump administration has reportedly said they do not.

Though it appears to be only a coincidence that the ABA’s “LGBT+ Forum” will be held on the heels of the Supreme Court announcement, the Title VII issue and the cases underpinning it will almost surely be discussed, as will other LGBT-rights issues that may face a tougher road now that Kennedy has stepped down.

Kennedy, replaced by Justice Brett Kavanaugh after retiring, was known as gay rights champion during his years on the bench.

The Supreme Court session will open the forum—set for next Tuesday and Wednesday at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square—and is titled “LGBT+ Issues in a Post-Kennedy World.” According to the ABA news release, it will feature Supreme Court practitioners and experts discussing how Kennedy’s departure “could affect the future of LGBT+ litigation ... including the exclusion of transgender persons from the military; the application of state parentage laws in light of Obergefell v. Hodges and Pavan v. Smith; and the applicability of Title VII.”

Session speakers will include, among others, Melissa Sherry, a Latham & Watkins partner and member of the law firm’s Supreme Court & Appellate Practice, who is also a former assistant to the U.S. solicitor general; as well as Joshua Matz, an attorney at Gupta Wessler, a former law clerk to Justice Kennedy, and publisher of “Take Care,” a blog focusing on “incisive analysis of the legal issues raised by Donald Trump’s presidency,” according to Gupta Wessler's website.

Rounding out the two days will be a conferencewide session titled, “From Rebellion to Rights: An Overview of How the Stonewall Uprising Sparked the LGBT+ Civil Rights Movement.”

According to an ABA forum brochure, “in this program, panel members, some of whom have worked in the LGBT+ legal rights movement since Stonewall and one who has been involved since the 1980s, will discuss the early days of the LGBT+ civil rights movement.”

“The discussion will center on the legal impact of the uprising, how it changed the course of legal history for the better, and how street activism and legal advocacy work, sometimes in tandem, sometimes with some friction, to achieve greater equality,” the brochure also says.

Gene Vance, chair of the ABA Section of Litigation, said in an email that the forum's "proximity to the impending 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising offers a unique opportunity to commemorate the seminal event giving rise to the gay rights movement and, at the same time review the progress made in the past 50 years while also looking to the future."

Vance added, "Programs like our plenary on the Post-Kennedy Supreme Court are especially timely given the decision this past week by the Court to consider the issue of whether our existing civil rights laws extend protection to the LGBT+ community in the workplace."

Some six smaller “breakout” sessions will also be held, including “Paving the Way: Top LGBT+ Litigators Offer Tips for Surviving and Thriving in Law Firms” and “Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby: LGBT+ Family Building Issues Beyond Assisted Reproduction.”

Just after the forum's close, the three-day Section of Litigation CLE conference will begin at the Marriott. The Diversity Leadership Award Luncheon will bridge the forum and the larger conference, and this year the award will be presented to U.S. District Court Judge Richard Jones of the Western District of Washington, according to ABA website news release.

Jones is a co-founder of the Northwest Minority Job Fair. The award “recognizes individuals or entities who have demonstrated a commitment to promoting full and equal participation in the legal community through the encouragement and inclusion of women, minorities, persons with disabilities, and/or persons of differing sexual orientations and gender identities,” the news release states.

The three-day Section of Litigation & Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division (GPSolo) CLE Conference will include some 60 CLE programs, according to the ABA.