Lesbian Lawyer Asks Supreme Court to Review Firing by Georgia Attorney General

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October 31, 1997

For Immediate Release: Friday, October 31, 1997
Contact: Ruth Harlow 212-809-8585, Jane Morrison 404-897-1880, or Peg Byron, Lambda, 212-809-8585

(ATLANTA, October 31, 1997) -- Asking the United States Supreme Court to rule on important gay civil rights and government employment issues, Robin Shahar announced on Friday that she is petitioning the nation's high court to review her case against Michael Bowers, who fired her from the Georgia Attorney General's Office when he learned that she planned to hold a Jewish commitment ceremony with her lesbian partner.

Shahar was joined at an Atlanta news conference with her lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Shahar's Supreme Court petition seeks to overturn a federal appeals court decision in May that upheld her firing. The petition for certiorari charges that Shahar's firing violated her first amendment rights to intimate and expressive association and that Bowers used numerous illegitimate double standards against Shahar because she is a lesbian. The Court, if it takes the case, will have the opportunity for the first time to rule on whether gay relationships are protected by the right of intimate association, which protects all kinds of deep personal bonds, such as family relationships, from government intrusion.

The ACLU, which originally brought the case in 1991, and Lambda are co-counsel on the petition.

Robin Shahar, plaintiff
Ruth Harlow, Lambda managing attorney, counsel of record for Shahar
Teresa Nelson, ACLU of Georgia executive director
Debra Schwartz, ACLU of Georgia cooperating attorney for Shahar

Statement by Lambda Managing Attorney Ruth Harlow, counsel of record for Robin Shahar

No one should be fired from government employment because she celebrates and values a committed, loving relationship in her private life. That is why Robin Shahar was fired. This case is about her constitutional freedom of association, and that of all public employees. If the Court takes this case, it's ruling will have broad implications for all government employees' freedom to live their personal lives as they see fit.

This case provides an opportunity for the Supreme Court to emphasize what the court of appeals ignored: the Constitution protects gay personal relationships the same way it protects all highly personal, important relationships. Robin Shahar is asking for equal treatment and respect under the Constitution.

Bowers treated Robin differently than he treated the rest of his staff because she is a lesbian. We hope to end double standards that harm openly gay or lesbian public employees.

This case is about where Bowers v. Hardwick ends and gay people's constitutional rights begin. The Court should put an end to the misuse of Hardwick. It does not provide a license for denying all constitutional freedoms to lesbians and gay men.

Statement by Robin Joy Shahar

It is with great awe and trepidation that I announce to you today Fran's and my decision to appeal to the United States Supreme Court. We look to the Supreme Court to be a voice of reason and justice where the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals failed. We look to the highest Court of our land to correct the terrible assumptions that no fair minded person can accept. What are some of these assumptions:

  1. That public prejudice is sufficient reason for firing a public employee;
  2. That a person's qualifications and proven record of excellence are irrelevant if the Attorney General chooses to act on the basis of fear and prejudice; and lastly
  3. That my being a lesbian was not critical to the Attorney General's decision, but could somehow be distinguished from my choosing a woman as my life partner.

My decision to appeal stems from my firm belief that Bowers' firing me was unconstitutional. An essential part of the concepts of liberty and freedom is that we are free to love whomever we want. Heterosexuals do not have to choose between who they love and where they work. Neither should gay men and lesbians have to make that choice.

Mr. Bowers' actions were blatantly discriminatory, and the majority of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has endorsed that discrimination. I am willing to pursue every legal remedy available to me to right these wrongs. I am willing to exhaust every legal remedy to achieve my vision of justice, a justice which protects the liberties of all persons, and protects all people from discrimination, regardless of their sexual orientation.


With its 25th anniversary in 1998, Lambda is the largest and oldest legal organization defending the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV and AIDS.


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