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April 27, 2011

Legal Representation of Unpopular Causes

Statement by New York State Bar Association President Stephen P. Younger 

  The New York State Bar Association supports the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Nevertheless, we believe that every party to an action, even one advocating an unpopular position, has a right to be heard in court. And we believe that a lawyer who chooses to represent that party should not be subject to criticism or public pressure to abandon the case. We believe defending unpopular causes is among the most important things lawyers do. 

While we will not speculate on the circumstances surrounding the recent events regarding the attorney defending DOMA, we cannot fail to note what seems to be an emerging trend of criticizing attorneys who represent controversial clients.  Throughout our country's history, the right to counsel and the role of lawyers in taking on unpopular causes have been hallmarks of our democracy. 

While there may be strenuous debate about the merits of a case, we should all recognize that lawyers' advocacy for their clients is one of the cornerstones of our legal system and that lawyers who represent unpopular causes are to be celebrated, rather than criticized.