Graduate Shares Supreme Court Experience

1984 graduate Roberta (Robbie) Kaplan returned to Cleveland last week to share her Supreme Court experience at a morning assembly for Hawken's Upper School, and at a noon luncheon broadcast live from The City Club of Cleveland.

Kaplan is a partner at the New York law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. Known as a powerhouse corporate litigator who thrives on pressure, she recently became famous for arguing before the United States Supreme Court on behalf of Edith Windsor in United States v. Windsor. As a result of this case, the Supreme Court ruled that a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violated the U.S. Constitution by barring legally married same-sex couples from enjoying the full range of benefits of marriage under federal law.

During her conversation with students, Kaplan emphasized the human aspects of arguing the case - her personal connection with Edie, Edie’s relationship with Thea (“If that’s not marriage, what is?”), and her emotions throughout the argument, waiting period, and decision.

Kaplan commented on how moral disapproval evolved to moral understanding – a “sea change” shift. When asked why this shift happened, she borrowed from Edie, who said “One brave person stepped forward, and then another, and another.” Kaplan added, “When you know and love someone who is gay, it is very hard to accept the fact that that person is discriminated against.”

Kaplan noted that she never imagined being where she is today when she was a student at Hawken. Her contributions to the widespread impact of the Windsor decision still seem surreal.  "I have to pinch myself and say 'Did I really do that?' "

One student was so inspired by Kaplan's morning presentation, that he made arrangements to attend the luncheon just hours later.

At Cleveland's City Club, Kaplan was joined by 1984 classmate Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. Kaplan and Dettlebach were not only classmates, but they commuted to school every day in the back of a small Honda.  

The two held an engaging conversation for the audience that included Hawken graduates, faculty, students, and Head of School D. Scott Looney. The City Club event was part of a 2014 Law Day celebration presented in partnership with the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association.

Read more about Kaplan's visit in this article by Kristen Mott from the Cleveland Jewis News.
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