Pamela Karlan, the Stanford Law School professor who slayed at Wednesday’s impeachment hearing, is one of the LGBTQ community’s own.
Karlan, director of Stanford Law’s Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, has described herself as a “snarky bisexual.” She also argued for an LGBTQ-inclusive interpretation of federal civil rights law at the high court in October.
One instance of Karlan’s self-identification came at the American Constitution Society’s national convention in 2006. Delivering the convention’s closing remarks, she suggested that liberal-leaning people have more reason to be patriotic than conservatives.
“We have to seize back the high ground on patriotism and on love of our country, because we have more reason than they do to love America,” she said, according to a transcript on the society’s website. “The rich, pampered, prodigal, sanctimonious, incurious white straight sons of the powerful do pretty well everywhere in the world, and they always have.
“But what about us? Snarky bisexual Jewish women who want the freedom to say what we think, read what we want, and love who we do. I don’t want to keep other people from having the great opportunities I’ve had here in the United States. I want other people to share them.” Karlan is partnered with writer Viola Canales.
In 2009, when Karlan was mentioned as a possible Supreme Court nominee, she told Politico, “It’s no secret at all that I’m counted among the LGBT crowd.” Some LGBTQ groups had hoped that President Barack Obama would nominate a member of the community to the high court to replace the retiring David Souter, but that did not happen, and Karlan downplayed the idea that she could be a nominee. “Given the landscape, I’m flattered but not fooled by having my name tossed around,” she said. Sonia Sotomayor succeeded Souter on the court.
In her opening statement to the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday as it considers the impeachment of Donald Trump, she said, “Based on the evidentiary record before you, what has happened in the case today is something that I do not think we have ever seen before: a president who has doubled down on violating his oath to ‘faithfully execute’ the laws and to ‘protect and defend the Constitution.’ The evidence reveals a president who used the powers of his office to demand that a foreign government participate in undermining a competing candidate for the presidency.” She was referring to Trump’s statement to the president of Ukraine that the Ukrainian government should investigate the work done by Hunter Biden, son of former Vice President Joe Biden, for an energy company in that nation. Joe Biden is a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Karlan later clapped back at U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, when he implied that she was not qualified to speak on the question of impeaching the president. In what Vanity Fair called “a verbal bitch-slap,” Karlan said, “I would like to say to you, sir, that I read transcripts of every one of the witnesses. … So I’m insulted by the suggestion that as a law professor I don’t care about those facts.”
“Everything I read on those occasions tells me that when President Trump invited, indeed demanded, foreign involvement in our upcoming election, he struck at the very heart of what makes this a republic to which we pledge allegiance,” she continued. “That demand ... constituted an abuse of power.”
At the Supreme Court October 8, Karlan represented two men, Gerald Bostock and the late Donald Zarda, who said they were fired for being gay. She argued that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which bans sex discrimination, applied in their cases because, as men attracted to men, they were treated differently than women attracted to men. “Title VII was intended to make sure that men were not disadvantaged relative to women and women were not disadvantaged relative to men,” she said. It was the ninth case she had argued before the Supreme Court, The New York Times reports. She also assisted Edie Windsor in her challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, although she did not argue that case at the high court.
Karlan’s experience additionally includes working in the Department of Justice’s civil rights division under President Obama. There she helped prepare a friend-of-the-court brief recommending that the Supreme Court rule for nationwide marriage equality in the Obergefell v. Hodges case (it did). At the DOJ, she received the Attorney General’s Award for Exceptional Service, the highest award given to employees of the department.
She is an alumna of Yale University and its law school, and she clerked for the late Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun. She is a coauthor of When Elections Go Bad: The Law of Democracy and the Presidential Election of 2000. In that election, Republican George W. Bush was declared the winner over Democrat Al Gore after recounts ceased in Florida.
“She is a brilliant, scrupulously careful scholar,” David Sklansky, a law professor at Stanford, told the Times. “She is also honest and candid, and she has a deep commitment to fairness and the rule of law. … “If you want to know what something in the Constitution means, it’s hard to think of a better person to ask.”