Abusing organizational procedures and employing debate-suppressing maneuvers, the leadership of the Connecticut Bar Association succeeded in getting the CBA to abandon its non-partisan tradition. By a split vote (12-4, with one abstention), the Board of Governors approved a request by a Boston-based gay advocacy group that the CBA officially support plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.

CBA president Barry Hawkins defended the procedure that led to this vote, and engaged in a self-aggrandizing miscast of himself as some kind of avant-garde bar leader who succeeded in overcoming those who resist “equality.” Spare us your sanctimony, Mr. Hawkins.

Putting aside the question of whether CBA should entertain requests for partisan amicus support in any case unrelated to the practice of law, Hawkins’ assertion of procedural integrity holds no water. The CBA’s membership was deprived of any meaningful opportunity to become aware of the move, much less to weigh in on it. If Hawkins considers one business day’s notice of CBA’s intention a fair procedure, he hardly espouses a core value of the legal profession.

Demonstrating just how much this “procedure” resembled classic liberal con artistry, only those around on a summer weekend (and willing to devote any part of it to a DOMA amicus debate) could speak up. Members of the CBA’s Federal Practice Section were unaware of the move until a last-minute, late-Friday-afternoon e-mail. Both that notice from the FPS (and my own Saturday response to it) met with numerous automated “on vacation” and “out of office” weekend replies from colleagues.

And, because they considered it a debate-suppression device, some objectors who were around justly refused to heed a directive against using the “reply all” key (which would keep other section members from seeing any objections or opinions on the matter). Good for them. CBA member Patrick Linsey deserves an even greater rebuke for his highly offensive column in the Law Tribune last week in which he suggests those who oppose same-sex marriage are modern-day “Bull” Connors. Linsey equates members who believe CBA should remain non-partisan in DOMA litigations with white riders who sat silently while Rosa Parks was ordered to the back of the bus.

By engaging in such despicable demagoguery, he also proved the point of those who objected to the CBA’s shedding its non-partisan tradition as a step that would undermine its role in fostering collegiality between lawyers of diverse ideological stripes.

Even more egregious was Linsey’s indefensible insult to African Americans, including black lawyers, many of whom have principled, rational objections to gay marriage, some for reasons of religious conviction, some for reasons unrelated to faith. Many African Americans have slammed the gay community for both its reactionary racism and its equating of the campaign against traditional marriage with the 1960s struggle against segregation and Jim Crow laws.

It is easy to understand why many blacks would resent gays for the false equation, especially when many blacks not only reject the legal claim that gay marriage is a civil “right” but oppose same-sex marriage as a matter of social policy.

I doubt Linsey would dare call one of them a “Bull” Connor to his face, for fear of getting his own face rearranged. Unthinking white lawyers who deploy such painful slurs in the effort to sanctimoniously claim a morally superior position on a so-called “civil rights” question typically lack cajones, as well as the gift of logical skill.

Not just a few African-American pastors have condemned what they saw as an opportunistic pivot by President Barack Obama on the issue of gay marriage for the sole purpose of un-leasing needed campaign cash from the gay lobby. Was the nation’s first black president, until just recently, one of those “Bull” Connor types?

This aftermath of this decision proves the point of those who opposed the CBA’s partisan step as an irresponsible one that undermines the organization’s professed goal of bringing lawyers together for common purposes in a non-adversarial environment. To discharge their duties as advocates, lawyers are forced to be adversaries. They must do battle – in discovery, in motion practice, at trial, and at the appellate podium. Litigation is stressful enough. The CBA was not formed to be an extension of the courtroom. It is supposed to provide lawyers a respite from the strains of that arena, an environment in which they might come together, free of the adversity that divides them. The CBA recently had to reduce its staff from 24 to 17 and increase its dues, citing financial problems and not enough members. Barry Hawkins did not exhibit good leadership but a failure of leadership. He did not act in furtherance of the CBA’s interests, he betrayed them. Worse, both Hawkins and Linsey intimate a moral superiority over all those who, for legitimate reasons unrelated to the merits of these litigations, believed the CBA should refrain from partisan involvement. Who wants to pay hefty dues so they can get abused? Hawkins’s sanctimony is a turn off, not a membership builder.

And if Patrick Linsey believes that invoking the vision of “Bull” Connor and equating colleagues who disagree with him to those whites who sat silent as Rosa Parks was ordered to the back of the bus is discourse that serves the CBA’s interests, then he is a CBA member we can well do without.•