Beginning tomorrow morning, the Georgia Supreme Court will co-sponsor a two-day conference on marriage and families with the anti-equality advocacy group, the Institute for American Values. The court's press release describes the event as "the first time in the country [that] a state supreme court commission will co-host a national summit on the institution of marriage." The court is acting through its Commission on Children, Marriage and Family Law.
The agenda features a debate between David Blankenhorn, IAV's president, and Jonathan Rauch, a Brookings Institute fellow and openly gay conservative writer who has argued that marriage should be open to (and expected of) gay men and lesbians. Other speakers include the Bush adminstration's Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, and the author of a 1993 Atlantic Monthly article: "Dan Quayle was right."
Academic participants include Professors Robin Fretwell Wilson of Washington and Lee Law School and Katherine Shaw Spaht of LSU Law Center. Both are highly regarded. But judging from the agenda, there will be no pro gay marriage or gay family voices included in the conference, other than in the debate between Blankenhorn and Rauch.
IAV certainly has every right to have such a conference, and I think it is perfectly appropriate for the Georgia Supreme Court to invite them to speak if the court wishes to do so; just as faculties, for example, routinely invite speakers with whom they may or may not agree. But the official imprimatur that the court seems to be bestowing on this set of presentations is troubling.
Judicial institutions should be like faculties in the freedom they have to solicit whichever set of views they want for events like judicial conferences or education programs. This event appears not to be one in which judges of the court will necessarily be in the audience, although it is difficult to tell from the announcements. Instead, the intended audience seems to be the community, primarily lawyers and family counselors, rather than the court itself. Paradoxically, this arrangement makes the situation worse.
Unlike universities, courts decide disputes, and their decisions bind us all. So the guarantee not only of impartiality but also of the appearance of impartiality is essential. The court's sponsorship of an almost entirely one-sided public conference provides an invaluable platform for the beliefs which are being espoused. In my view, this event treads close to the line – and perhaps crosses it – of a court signaling its endorsement of one political viewpoint.
This is not a first that the Georgia Supreme Court should be proud of.