David Boies, a lawyer who helped achieve a Supreme Court victory for same-sex marriage in California in 2013, lectured on law’s potential to shape societal change Thursday. The lecture was this year’s keynote address for the Trustee-Council Annual Meeting.
President Elizabeth Garrett introduced Boies, who is the chairman of his own law firm, Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP, with clients including American Express, Apple and Nascar. He was also named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by Time magazine in 2010.
Boies spoke about his involvement in the famous marriage equality case, where he teamed up with Ted Olsen to overturn California’s ban on same-sex marriage in 2013.
He said the decision was justified by both the constitution and public opinion.
“It happened because it was the right thing under the constitution,” he said. “It also happened because people’s hearts and minds changed about this issue over a very brief period of time. The court cases focused people’s attention on this issue and made people stop and think about what discrimination in this area meant.”
Boies and Olsen were opponents in Bush vs. Gore, the Supreme Court case that decided the presidential election in 2000, but the two became good friends during that case, according to Boies.
“The only one who’s as interested in the case as you are is the person on the other side,” Boies said. “We respected the commitment each of us had to the justice system as a way of resolving issues.”
While reflecting on the challenges of the legal system, Boies cited the strikingly low salary allocations for judges as detrimental to the quality of our judicial system.
“If we are not prepared to spend the money we need to have the very best people as judges, we are not going to have the kind of legal system we want,” Boies said.
Finally, Boies urged the audience to celebrate what people can do with law and to celebrate its ability to change society.
“Celebrate our ability to make our society a better, more inclusive place by changing the rules and regulations and use the law to bring the kinds of cases that changes people’s hearts and minds,” Boies said.
In an interview with The Sun, Boies said as a young boy he was inspired by his favorite childhood TV character, criminal defense lawyer Perry Mason. Later in his life, he said he realized how law greatly influences society, determining everything from wages and working conditions to who can run for public office.
“To use law as an element of social change was something I thought was really important and a great opportunity,” Boies said.
Boies identified patience and civility as two of the most important qualities in an effective lawyer.
“Sometimes patience means waiting to give your opponent the chance to make a mistake,” Boies said. “Civility is an important weapon … most people react better when you treat them decently.”
Boies added that he believes education is currently the most pressing civil right in the United States.
“Education is a basic civil right that many people in our society do not enjoy today,” Boies said. “The people who most need access to primary and secondary school education get the worst education. we’re giving our best education to those who already have a headstart in life, and depriving people just some help to get to the starting gate.”