May 06, 2020 Feature

Interview with Roberta Kaplan

The lawyer who argued against the Defense of Marriage Act before the Supreme Court discusses her career and important cases she has worked on.

Eliot Turner

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In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the federal Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. The case challenging the law was brought by an octogenarian widow, Edie Windsor, who was stuck with a tax bill for her wife’s estate—which wouldn’t have been the case had federal law allowed her to take the surviving spouse deduction.

Windsor’s case was argued in the Supreme Court by Roberta Kaplan, then a partner at Paul, Weiss in New York. Kaplan has continued making news, suing neo-Nazis and others in the so-called “Alt-Right” for their role in organizing violent protests in Charlottesville, as well as Donald Trump for defamation on behalf of E. Jean Carroll, who accused him of raping her in the 1990s. She has also since left Paul, Weiss to form her own firm, Kaplan, Hecker & Fink, where she continues to take on public interest cases as well as high-stakes commercial litigation. Kaplan and I spoke by phone in late 2019 about some of the highlights of her career and challenges facing the legal profession.

Illustration by Elizabeth Traynor

Illustration by Elizabeth Traynor

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