Jenner & Block

From its groundbreaking victory in Lawrence v. Texas, to its current litigation challenging North Carolina's anti-transgender law HB2, Jenner & Block is proud to have played an important role in many of the most significant LGBT civil rights cases over the past 15 years.

These cases, and Jenner & Block's role, include the following:

  • Transgender Rights in Iowa - The firm represented amici in a case pending in the Iowa Supreme Court that resulted in a victory for two transgender women who argued that the state’s failure to cover gender-affirming surgery constituted impermissible discrimination based on gender identity.  On March 15, 2019, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Iowa Department of Human Services discriminated against the two women.  Associate Lindsey A. Lusk authored the brief, with supervision by Partners Robert R. Stauffer and Devi M. Rao.
  • Transgender Rights: Military Service. In July 2017, President Trump tweeted that the United States would not accept transgender individuals to serve in the armed forces. Several legal challenges ensued, including Jane Doe, et al. v. Donald J. Trump, et al. In that case, a firm team filed an amicus brief on behalf of medical, mental health and other health care organizations supporting the plaintiffs. In October of that year, US District Judge Colleen Kollar- Kotelly ruled that Trump’s directive could not be enforced while the case worked its way through the courts. The team writing the amicus brief included Partners Scott B. Wilkens and Devi M. Rao and Associate Ben J. Brysacz. In December 2017, the Department of Justice withdrew its legal challenges to several federal court rulings that challenged Trump’s decree. As of January 1, 2018, the Department of Defense began accessing transgender applicants for military service.
  • Transgender Rights Nationwide - Gloucester County Sch. Bd. v. G.G. We submitted an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of 20 leading medical and mental health organizations in support of a transgender boy seeking to use the boys’ restroom in his Virginia high school.  On behalf of amici, Jenner & Block argued that access to single-sex facilities that correspond to one’s gender identity is a critical aspect of the treatment and inclusion of transgender individuals.  Partner Scott B. Wilkens led the firm’s team in drafting the brief, assisted by former Partner Erica Ross, former Associate Nicholas W. Tarasen and Associate Ben J. Brysacz. Senior Paralegal Cheryl L. Olson also made valuable contributions.
  • Transgender Rights in North Carolina - H.B. 2 Litigation. We are co-counsel with the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina in a challenge to North Carolina’s controversial House Bill 2.  The so-called “bathroom bill” bans transgender people from accessing restrooms and other facilities consistent with their gender identity and blocks local governments from protecting LGBT people against discrimination in a wide variety of  settings.  The lawsuit asks for a declaratory judgment that H.B. 2 violates the plaintiffs’ or their family members’ constitutional and statutory rights to equal protection, liberty, dignity, autonomy and privacy and seeks an injunction on enforcement of the bill.  The firm’s team includes Partners Scott B. Wilkens and Luke C. Platzer; former partner Paul M. Smith and former associates Mark P. Gaber, Nicholas W. Tarasen and Lorenzo Di Silvio; and Associate Thomas D. Garza.
  • Same-Sex Adoption Rights Nationwide - V.L. v. E.L. In a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling affecting tens of thousands of same-sex couples, we obtained the summary reversal of the Alabama Supreme Court’s refusal to recognize an out-of-state adoption by a same-sex couple.  The Supreme Court held that the Constitution’s Full Faith and Credit Clause required recognition of the adoption, assuring countless same-sex couples that their parental rights will remain intact even when they cross state lines.  The firm’s team was led by Partner Adam G. Unikowsky, with assistance from former Partner Paul M. Smith and Law Clerk Adrienne L. Benson.
  • Marriage Equality Nationwide - Obergefell v. Hodges. In its landmark opinion legalizing same-sex marriage across the United States, the US. Supreme Court cited and agreed with an amicus curiae brief we submitted on behalf of the American Psychological Association and other mental-health organizations arguing that the claim that allowing same-sex couples to marry undermines the institution of marriage and harms children is inconsistent with the evidence.  The firm’s team included Partner Emily Chapuis and former Partner Paul M. Smith.
  • Marriage Equality in Virginia and West Virginia. As co-counsel with Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Virginia, we achieved a resounding victory when the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court ruling striking down the Virginia ban on same-sex marriage in a federal class-action lawsuit representing approximately 14,000 same-sex couples who were barred from marrying in that state. Once the Fourth Circuit issued its ruling, the federal court in West Virginia, before whom we had challenged West Virginia’s definition of marriage as between a man and a woman as co-counsel with Lambda Legal, was then bound by precedent.  The firm’s team included Partners Luke C. Platzer and Lindsay C. Harrison and former Associates Mark P. Gaber and R. Trent McCotter and Nicholas W. Tarasen.
  • Ending Insurance Discrimination Against People with HIV/AIDs.  As counsel for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and the Aids Legal Council of Chicago, we persuaded the Illinois Department of Insurance to issue a statement in May 2014 informing insurers that the department would not permit health insurance plans that discriminate against people living with HIV/AIDS to be sold on the Illinois Health Insurance Marketplace in 2015.  In so doing, Illinois became the first state in the nation to issue an explicit prohibition of discrimination against people with HIV in health insurance marketplace plans. The firm’s team included former partner Christopher C. Dickinson, Associate D. Matthew Feldhaus and former Associate Daniel A. Johnson.
  • DOMA - United States v. Windsor.  As counsel for GLAD and Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund, Inc. we submitted a brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm the appellate court rulings that had found the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.
  • California’s Proposition 8 - Hollingsworth v. Perry.  We submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the California Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychoanalytic Association, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, the National Association of Social Workers and Its California Chapter, and the California Psychological Association arguing that a comprehensive body of research demonstrating that the discrimination effected by Proposition 8 unfairly stigmatizes same-sex couples. 
  • DOMA - Gill v. Office of Personnel Management.  As co-counsel with GLAD, and two other law firms, we obtained a landmark victory in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts when it overturned Section 3 of DOMA.  That win was then to the entire First Circuit in 2012, when on appeal the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the District Court for the District of Massachusetts and nullified Section 3 of DOMA.  As the country’s first federal court of appeals decision overturning DOMA, Gill laid the foundation for the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in United States v. Windsor nullifying the law.
  • DOMA - Pedersen v. Office of Personnel Management. As co-counsel with GLAD in federal district court in Connecticut, we challenged the federal government’s denial of Social Security claims, retirement benefits, health care, and family medical leave to lawfully-married same-sex couples in Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont.
  • Protecting an Illinois HIV Clinic.  We litigated an insurance coverage case for a clinic that provides provide HIV education, testing, and treatment to underserved communities throughout five counties in Illinois.  After the clinic’s insurer had denied coverage, we litigated the coverage case in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, and ultimately resolved the matter through a settlement.
  • Transgender Rights in Illinois - Grey v. Hasbrouck.  As co-counsel with the Roger Baldwin Foundation/ACLU of Illinois and the ACLU LGBT Project, we challenged the Illinois Department of Vital Records restrictive practices of denying birth certificates to transgender individuals born in Illinois that identify their correct gender.  As a result of our lawsuit, the State of Illinois reversed itself and changed its policy so that those who have reassignment surgery abroad can secure a new, accurate birth certificate that reflects their gender. The Department also announced that it would formulate new standards for determining how much surgery will be required before a transgendered person will be provided a new birth certificate.
  • Transgender Rights in the Seventh Circuit - Fields, et al. v. Smith, et alThe Seventh Circuit Court of Appeal unanimously affirmed the position we submitted in an amicus curiae brief on behalf of medical and mental health professionals regarding the standards of care for transgender individuals.  The plaintiffs argued that a Wisconsin law barring access to hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery for prison inmates and others in state custody violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution by denying medically necessary treatment to transgender prisoners.  During the questioning of the Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General, Judge Rovner specifically cited the Firm’s amicus brief stating that it made it “clear as clear can be” that the medical community accepts that hormone therapy is appropriate treatment for individuals with Gender Identity Disorder.
  • Protecting an Illinois Food Pantry for Individuals Affected by HIV – Heartland Health Outreach, Inc. v. North Elston Seafood Partners, LLC.  We handled a significant commercial dispute for Vital Bridges Center on Chronic Care, a Chicago-based food pantry for individuals affected by HIV/AIDS.  After a supplier for the food pantry failed to make several deliveries, went out of business, and became judgment proof, we successfully prosecuted fraud claims against the supplier’s former officers, and ultimately resolved the matter through a settlement.
  • Hastings Outlaw Victory - Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. We contributed to a victory before the U.S. Supreme Court for the Outlaw group at Hastings Law School in San Francisco, California. The Christian Legal Society claimed a First Amendment right to receive official recognition from Hastings Law School in San Francisco, while maintaining a membership policy that excluded gay and lesbian students and students with other religious beliefs. The Court ruled by a 5-4 margin in favor of Hastings Outlaw, and Justice Kennedy emphasized Hastings’s interest in encouraging students to interact with a wide range of opinions in the student activities that it funded and supported. He noted that “a vibrant dialogue is not possible if students wall themselves off from opposing points of view.”
  • Defense Against Anti-Minority Initiatives - Doe v. Reed. We submitted an amicus curiae brief to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., GLAD, and other LGBT supporting organizations arguing that keeping the names of people who sign ballot-initiative petitions deprive lesbian and gay people of conventional political protections, and that public access to petition records provides a much-needed procedural check on anti-minority initiatives. The court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeals by an 8-1 majority, and held that those who sign referendum petitions generally do not have a constitutional right to keep their identities private.
  • Marriage Equality in Iowa – Varnum v. Brien. We submitted an amicus curiae brief to the Iowa Supreme Court challenging Iowa’s refusal to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  The case resulted in a unanimous decision establishing same-sex marriage in Iowa and holding that an Iowa state statute limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples violated the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution.
  • Marriage Equality in Connecticut - Kerrigan v. Commissioner of Public Health.  We submitted an influential amicus brief on behalf of national organizations that represent mental health professionals during the Connecticut Supreme Court’s review of the state’s civil union law.  The Connecticut Supreme Court issued a decision that disparate treatment of same-sex couples under the state’s civil union law, rather than marriage, was constitutionally deficient.  The brief was hailed in an article in The AmLaw Daily as “a stirring defense of gay rights,” and called “the most powerful” of those submitted in the case by major law firms.
  • Marriage Equality in California - In re Marriage Cases. In California’s landmark marriage case, the California Supreme Court quoted extensively and relied on an amicus curiae brief we filed on behalf of national organizations that represent mental health professionals.  The California Supreme Court agreed with the argument we presented, quashing the notion that children raised by gay or lesbian couples have a higher rate of sexual identity disorders and other difficulties, and the Court found no legally justifiable reason why the state should withhold the institution of marriage because of a couple’s sexual orientation.
  • Maryland Marriage Equality – Conaway v. Deane. We submitted an amicus curiae brief to the Maryland Supreme Court on behalf of national organizations that represent mental health professionals challenging Maryland’s refusal to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
  • New York Marriage Equality – Hernandez v. Robles. We submitted an amicus curiae brief to the New York Court of Appeals on behalf of national organizations that represent mental health professionals New York’s refusal to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
  • Illinois Marriage Equality – Fair Illinois Representation.  As co-counsel with Lambda Legal and Fletcher Topol O’Brien & Kasper PC and Michael Kreloff we succeeded in obtaining a ruling from the Illinois State Board of Elections that it would not certify a statewide antigay advisory referendum opposing marriage and relationship rights.  Representing Fair Illinois, we demonstrated that tens of thousands of signatures for the referendum were invalid.
  • LGBT Civil Rights – Lawrence v. Texas.  The firm worked alongside the Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas, which forever altered the LGBT civil rights landscape.  Former Partner Paul M. Smith successfully argued before the Court on behalf of two male petitioners who had challenged the constitutionality of a Texas anti-sodomy law that criminalized only same-sex conduct, not identical conduct by different-sex couples.  The high court’s decision reversed a 1986 ruling upholding sodomy laws. In the Court’s decision, Justice Kennedy concluded that homosexuals have “the full right to engage in private conduct without government intervention.”  The Chicago Tribune summed up the importance of Lawrence v. Texas by estimating that “the Court’s decision could be among the most significant civil rights rulings in years, with implications for homosexuals’ efforts to be treated equally in the workplace and in child custody decisions.”
  • We represented the American Psychological Association (APA) as amicus in a Maryland case challenging the state’s anti-sodomy statute.  Throughout the 1990s, the firm continued to file amicus briefs for the APA on issues ranging from anti-sodomy statutes to child custody to discriminatory referenda, including in the landmark United States Supreme Court case Romer v. Evans, which held that a state constitutional amendment adopted by Colorado voters, preventing protected status based on homosexuality or bisexuality, did not satisfy the Equal Protection Clause.

sketch by Art Lien

Partner Adam G. Unikowsky argues before the US Supreme Court in 2017. Sketch by Art Lien.

Former partner Paul M. Smith speaks to the media after his successful argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003.