From lengthy man-bites-dog story in the NY Times:
... Last November, [Rob] Reiner and his wife, Michele, invited two
prominent Democratic consultants, Chad Griffin and Kristina Schake, to
lunch at the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Ten days before,
voters had passed Proposition 8, an amendment to the California
Constitution negating a State Supreme Court decision that had briefly
legalized same-sex marriage. Mr. Griffin, who had come out eight years
earlier, said he felt like he had been gut-punched.
friends commiserated and discussed what to do next, an acquaintance
named Kate Moulene stopped by. In a phone conversation later that
afternoon, she suggested that Ms. Reiner contact her sister’s former
husband, a leading constitutional lawyer. His name was Ted Olson, she
said, and “knowing him as I do, I bet he’d be on your side of this.”
“Ted Olson?” Ms. Reiner recalls exclaiming. “Why on earth would I want to talk to him?”
Mr. Olson’s reputation, after all, went far beyond Bush v. Gore. As
head of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department in the
Reagan administration, Mr. Olson had been an architect of the
president’s drive to ease government regulation and end race-based
school busing and affirmative action set-asides in federal contracting.
He later provided assistance to those seeking to impeach President Bill Clinton.
Mr. Bush’s solicitor general, in charge of representing the government
before the Supreme Court, Mr. Olson became identified with the
administration’s broad interpretation of its wartime power in the wake
of the Sept. 11 attacks, in which his wife, Barbara, a conservative
commentator, was killed. (Mr. Olson nonetheless privately counseled
that terrorism suspects be given certain basic legal rights,
administration officials said, correctly predicting that failure to do
so would lead to Supreme Court setbacks.)
Still, Mr. Reiner was
intrigued. The tactician in him saw the wisdom of hiring a lawyer who
had won 44 of the 55 Supreme Court cases he argued; the director
grasped the dramatic impact of such a casting decision. He dispatched
Mr. Griffin to consult with experts about the feasibility of a federal
court challenge to Proposition 8 and to gauge Mr. Olson’s interest.
thought, if someone as conservative as Ted Olson were to get involved
in this issue, it would go a long, long way in terms of presenting this
in the right kind of light,” Mr. Reiner said.
In fact, Mr. Olson’s history was more complex than Mr. Reiner imagined.
Mr. Olson had become active in the Republican Party
as a college and law student in California in the 1960s, long before
the rise of the religious right and its focus on social issues. He
gravitated toward a particularly Western brand of conservatism that
valued small government and maximum individual liberty, becoming one of
a few law students at the University of California, Berkeley to support Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential bid.
the time, the South was riven by racial strife, and during a college
debate trip to Texas, Mr. Olson got his first close-up view of blatant
discrimination. Lady Booth Olson, a lawyer whom Mr. Olson married in
2006, said he still tears up when telling how a black teammate was
turned away from a restaurant in Amarillo. Mr. Olson “tore into the
owner,” insisting the team would not eat unless everyone was served,
recalled the team’s coach, Paul Winters. “If he sees something that is
wrong in his mind, he goes after it,” Mr. Winters said.
later, during the Reagan administration, when Mr. Olson was asked if
the Justice Department could dismiss a prosecutor for being gay, he wrote
that it was “improper to deny employment or to terminate anyone on the
basis of sexual conduct.” In 1984, Mr. Olson returned to private
practice and was succeeded by Mr. Cooper, his adversary in the marriage
case. The switch eliminated “what was seen as a certain libertarian
squishiness at the Office of Legal Counsel under Ted,” Mr. Calabresi
During the Bush administration, Mr. Olson was consulted
on a plan to amend the Constitution to define marriage as between a man
and a woman. “What were we thinking putting something like that in the
Constitution?” he recalls telling the White House.
time, state legislatures were debating alternatives to same-sex
marriage like civil unions, but Mr. Olson said he saw them as political
half-measures that continued to treat gay men and lesbians as separate
and unequal. Over dinner at a Capitol Hill restaurant, he argued that
marriage was an essential component of happiness that gay couples had
every right to enjoy, recalled David Frum, a conservative author and former Bush speechwriter.
was really impressed and struck by how important the issue was to him,”
Mr. Frum said. “The majority view at the table was on the other side,
but his view was, ‘You have to make peace with this because it is sure
to happen, and you will see it in your lifetime.’ ”
Olson signed on to the California case after a meeting at Mr. Reiner’s
home last December, telling the group gathered there that he would not
“just be some hired gun,” Ms. Schake recalled. In fact, he had already
rebuffed a query about defending Proposition 8. Still, to allay suspicions on the left, he suggested bringing on his adversary in Bush v. Gore, David Boies, whom he had since befriended. Both lawyers agreed to waive part of their fees.