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Paul Smith knew from an early stage of the case that Lawrence v. Texas might well become one of the capstones of his long career as an appellate lawyer. “When we heard that certiorari was granted, we knew then that we were in a position to make history,” says the 49-year-old Jenner & Block partner. Smith argued and won the Supreme Court case, establishing a landmark precedent that the Constitution bars states from prohibiting consensual sexual relations among gay people. A 6-3 majority of the Court overruled a precedent from 1986 and held that the due process clause grants adults a liberty interest in their private sexual conduct. It was a landmark case for Smith, but far from the only such case in his more than 20 years arguing before federal appellate judges. After Yale Law School and clerkships for 2nd Circuit Judge James Oakes and Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell Jr., Smith worked Supreme Court litigation boutiques of Onek, Klein & Farr and its successor, Klein, Farr, Smith & Taranto. He joined Jenner & Block’s Supreme Court practice in 1994. He now co-chairs the practice and is managing partner of the firm’s D.C. office. Smith is a protégé of the late Bruce Ennis, a Jenner partner who was a leading light of the appellate bar until his death in 2000 at age 60. And he has also worked closely with H. Bartow Farr, now of Farr & Taranto (who is also featured in this special report). Among Smith’s 11 Supreme Court arguments, he considers Lawrence his most memorable — both because of its lasting importance to American constitutional law and because of its importance to him as a gay person. “The Lambda Legal team that brought the case felt it would be better to have someone argue the case who was experienced in Supreme Court practice in order to convey an establishment message, in a way, to the Court,” says Smith. “But at the same time, they wouldn’t have considered me if I weren’t gay. There was a strongly felt view that they wanted to be represented by one of their own. It was an interesting personal moment for me.” Ruth Harlow, who recently stepped down as legal director of Lambda Legal, the gay rights advocacy group, says that Smith “used just the right language and force to give our cause the dignity that it deserves. We had already laid out the legal details, but it was his job to translate them into what amounted to a speech or theater performance. He is down to earth but also brilliant.” Smith has developed subspecialties in First Amendment disputes, redistricting appeals, and voting rights cases. Last year, in the First Amendment case United States v. American Library Association, the Court rejected by a 6-3 margin Smith’s contention that free speech is violated when libraries are compelled by an act of Congress to use filters to screen pornography from children’s sight. Smith argued the case just three weeks before the arguments in Lawrence. But First Amendment advocates didn’t view the ruling as a significant loss, since two justices in the majority relied on the government’s contention that the filters can easily be unblocked by a librarian for an adult patron. In 1992, Smith successfully argued in Presley v. Etowah County Commission that an Alabama county’s decision to change the allocation of power among its governmental units was not a change of procedure “with respect to voting” that is covered by the Voting Rights Act. Smith represented the county government in the case, which was decided 6-3. Smith says the key element for any lawyer in arguing before the Supreme Court or any other court is to be true to his or her personality. “One of the biggest mistakes is to pick a style that’s not natural for you,” Smith says. “The idea is to have a conversation with the Court, to answer in a natural tone of voice, and to focus on what the justices are looking to find out from you.”

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