Justice's Lesbian Cousin to Attend Prop 8 Hearing

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 25 2013 3:17 AM

Chief Justice Roberts' Lesbian Cousin Will Attend This Week's Prop 8 Hearing as His Guest

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts arrives during Barack Obama's second presidential inauguration.

Photo by Win McNamee/AFP/Getty Images

Let the SCOTUS tea-leaf reading begin! Via the Los Angeles Times:

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

Jean Podrasky, 48, a lesbian who wants to marry her partner, will be at Tuesday’s U.S. Supreme Court hearing on Proposition 8 in seating reserved for family members and guests of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. "I am so excited," said Podrasky, an accountant and the first cousin of the chief justice on his mother’s side. "I feel quite honored and overwhelmed."

Podrasky lives in San Francisco with her partner, so her interest in California's voter-passed ban on same-sex marriages clearly extends far beyond a first-hand look at her cousin's legal mind in action. Joining her in the family section during Tuesday's arguments will be her sister, her niece, and her partner of four years, Grace Fasano. The following day, when the court hears the challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, the group will return to their seats, albeit with Podrasky's father taking the place of her niece.

Podrasky told the paper that she usually only sees Roberts at family gatherings but that he is well aware that she is gay and that she hopes that Roberts will meet her partner during their trip to Washington. (While the two may not be the closest of cousins, Podrasky was among those family members who Roberts took the time to introduce back in 2005 at his Senate confirmation hearing.)

The news is sure to have court watchers speculating as to what Roberts' guest list means in regard to how he'll ultimately vote on the pair of landmark gay marriage cases before his court. It's worth noting, however, that Podrasky was the one who asked for the tickets, emailing Roberts' sister before going through his secretary, according to the report. So it's not as though the chief justice went out of his way to invite his lesbian cousin and her partner to hear arguments about whether they should be allowed to marry. Still, that's unlikely to dampen the left's excitement over the possibility that the chief justice could become the latest example of contact theory in action.

Podrasky, for one, sounds like a woman who is very optimistic that her cousin will help pave the way for her and Fasano to one day walk down the aisle. "He is a smart man," she told the paper. "He is a good man. I believe he sees where the tide is going. I do trust him. I absolutely trust that he will go in a good direction."

Such optimism isn't exactly a surprise given the momentum currently being enjoyed by gay marriage activists and their like-minded allies. Recent polling suggests a level of public support that would have been nearly unthinkable a decade ago—a shift that appears to have a whole lot to do with the fact that Americans are increasingly coming to terms with the fact that someone they know is gay (see: Portman, Rob). A Pew poll from last week, for example, found that roughly a third of Americans who now support same-sex marriage after previously opposing it said they changed their minds because they know someone—a friend, family member, or other acquaintance—who is gay.

Still, Podrasky doesn't appear to have any inside information about Roberts' views on the topic. She told the paper that she hasn't ever spoken with Roberts about the issue and likewise suggested to Fortune magazine back in 2011 that she viewed such a conversation as out of bounds. "I really would never disrespect him by asking him about his cases," she said then.

Roberts is mostly a blank slate when it comes to gay marriage (so much so that it's even possible that a vote in favor of striking down Prop 8 and/or DOMA wouldn't even be a change of heart for Roberts as much as an opportunity for him to simply show his cards for the first time). As the New Yorker explained last summer, "None of the gay-rights-related cases that have come before him as a judge give any significant clues as to how he might rule on the weighty constitutional issues he will face." So while Roberts' guest list may be nothing more than an example of a son trying to keep his mother happy, given how much of a question mark he represents, it's one that's sure to be analyzed by those on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate as everyone awaits this week's long-awaited action.

***Follow @JoshVoorhees and the rest of the @slatest team on Twitter.***

This post has been updated for the sake of clarity.


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