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Public Interest Litigation
At Kaplan Hecker & Fink, we are committed to litigating cases that advance the public interest. As lawyers, we are officers of the court and servants of the people, duty bound to uphold the rule of law and the rights, privileges, and protections that the law promises to everyone. We put public service at the center of our practice and our public interest cases are as important to us as every other case.
Current public interest matters at the firm include:
- Representing ten plaintiffs suing twenty-five neo-Nazi and white supremacist individuals and organizations responsible for the violence that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Virginia, alleges that the rally organizers violated Reconstruction- Era statutes and state laws, including a conspiracy to commit domestic terrorism, by organizing a rally intended to result in violence.
- Representing a woman sued for defamation by famous Hollywood producer, Brett Ratner, after she shared her #MeToo story.
- Helping launch the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which provides victims of sexual harassment and assault with legal representation to ensure that victims are not bullied or silenced by the burden of costly, protracted litigation.
- Submitting amicus briefs to the Supreme Court in both Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd., v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project and Trump v. Hawaii.
- Representing the Campaign for Southern Equality in a constitutional challenge to Mississippi's HB 1523, an anti-LGBT "religious freedom" law.
- Representing LGBT pride organization and its leaders in constitutional challenge to City of Starkville, Mississippi’s ban on a gay pride parade. After Kaplan, Hecker & Fink filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, the City reversed its initial ban and permitted the parade to go forward.
It is surely no exaggeration to say that Robbie Kaplan has decades of experience litigating for the equal rights of gay and lesbian citizens. As a law clerk to then New York Chief Judge Judith Kaye, in 1995, Robbie worked with Judge Kaye on the landmark decision that secured for gay families the right to adopt their own children in New York State. In 2006, in Hernandez v. Robles, Robbie (unsuccessfully) argued before the New York Court of Appeals seeking to obtain the right of gay couples to marry under the New York State Constitution.
In 2010, Robbie and her team (including partner Julie Fink) filed a case on behalf of a then unknown octogenarian widow by the name Edie Windsor who wanted to challenge the estate tax bill she owed as a result of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Robbie and Julie litigated that case through the federal courts, including obtaining one of the first ever decisions holding that laws that discriminate against gay people are entitled to heightened scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause. Robbie ultimately argued that case before the United States Supreme Court, resulting in United States v. Windsor, the landmark Supreme Court decision striking the key provision of DOMA as unconstitutional. Robbie has written about her experiences litigating Windsor in her award-winning book, Then Comes Marriage: United States v. Windsor and the Defeat of DOMA (W.W. Norton, 2015). Professor Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law School has observed that he cannot "think of any Supreme Court decision in history that has ever created so rapid and broad a lower-court groundswell in a single direction as Windsor." The reasoning in Windsor led the Supreme Court to hold in 2015 that gay couples have “equal dignity,” which gives them the constitutional right to marry nationwide.
Following Windsor, Robbie and her team went on to litigate three separate, though related, cases in the State of Mississippi. First, in 2013, Robbie and her team won a case seeking marriage equality in Mississippi. In an article about her Fifth Circuit argument in that case, Mark Stern of Slate wrote “Kaplan emerged as Mississippi’s fiercest LGBTQ rights defender after…[she] secured a victory against Mississippi’s same-sex marriage ban.” Next, Robbie and her team sued to overturn Mississippi's ban on adoption by gay and lesbian couples. The teenage son of two of Robbie’s clients in that case described Robbie’s argument as follows: “Once the arguments had begun, our prestigious and almost rock star-like lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, had to stop multiple times to slow down and repeat what was said in her fast, New York accent so the court reporter could catch up. Ms. Kaplan’s job was to explain our case to the judge, tell him all of the many reasons why this law should be declared unconstitutional and describe the damage it has caused to the many gay couples all across Mississippi.”
Today, Kaplan Hecker is proud to represent the Campaign for Southern Equality in its efforts the defeat Mississippi's HB 1523, an anti-LGBT "religious freedom" law on grounds of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. When the case was filed, legal commentator Mark Stern of Slate had this to say: “When is Mississippi going to learn it can’t sneak this stuff past Roberta Kaplan?” The fight against HB 1523 is ongoing.