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News Posted on April 11, 2013

Therese Stewart Delivers 2013 Bill Smith Memorial Lecture

Therese Stewart, Chief Deputy City Attorney for the City and County of San Francisco and a key figure in the legal battle over same-sex marriage in California and in the U.S. Supreme Court, delivered the 12th Annual Bill F. Smith Memorial Lecture on April 9 in the Kalmanovitz Appellate Courtroom.

Sponsored by the Lambda Law Students, the event also included the presentation of Lambda's Faculty/Professor of the Year award to Professor Courtney Joslin and the awarding of the Bill Smith Memorial Public Interest Fellowship to Casey Lewallen '15.

Stewart, a graduate of UC Berkeley School of Law, has been working to defend the legal rights of same-sex couples since her time as a litigator with Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin, where she did pro bono work defending a San Francisco ordinance requiring city contractors to provide employment benefits to same-sex partners.  She was recruited to join the staff of City Attorney Dennis Herrera in 2001, and in 2004, when then-San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom directed city officials to permit same-sex marriages, she defended the city's actions against a series of injunctions.  After the passage of California's same-sex marriage ban, Proposition 8, she represented San Francisco in opposing the initiative, delivering oral arguments before the California Supreme Court, and she was part of the legal team that took the Prop. 8 case to federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  Steward has also been involved submitting briefs and mooting counsel in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Prop. 8 case currently under U.S. Supreme Court review.

Stewart offered an overview of her experiences, including many interesting insights into the strategies employed in working with plaintiffs' attorneys Theodore Olson and David Boies in successfully opposing Prop. 8 in federal court. "Our team felt that we could put discrimination on trial, and that it wasn't going to be that challenging to show that the arguments that the other side was making didn't have any legs in any valid social science or science of any kind," she said. "In fact, over the years since the state court cases, the four-year period in between, the science in our favor has solidified even more."

She also discussed the oral arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry and the various scenarios that may result, including the possibility that the Justices may resolve the case on standing or issue a narrow ruling affecting only California. The most problematic outcome for supporters of same-sex marriage would probably be a "pure standing decision" that could prevent the Supreme Court from ruling on the merits of the case, nullify the Ninth Circuit decision, and revert to the federal court ruling, which would likely result in a number of lower court "skirmishes" as various agencies argued that that decision did not apply to them.  

"I think the end it's not going to make a big difference, but there has already been noise about skirmishes, people who want to claim that ruling couldn't be applied to country clerks in some far flung county," she said.  "It's kind of a pain in neck when people are ready to finally be able to exercise their constitutional rights and they have to be fighting more skirmishes and defending themselves, so I would rather see a merits ruling."

The Bill Smith Memorial Lecture honors the memory of Bill Smith '98, who died in 2001. While at King Hall, Smith was the president of the Lambda Law Students, won the Martin Luther King, Jr. Service Award, and worked on behalf of LGBT and disability-oriented civil rights. Upon graduation, he practiced employment and family law.