Chief Justice John Roberts’ Lesbian Cousin Will Attend The Supreme Court’s Prop 8 Hearing

Chief Justice John Roberts will have a gay relative in the audience as he hears arguments over Proposition 8 on Tuesday. Jean Podrasky, Roberts' 48-year-old liberal lesbian cousin who wants to marry her partner will be watching, the L.A. Times reports:

RobertsRoberts is a conservative appointed by President George W. Bush in 2005. Podrasky, who is more liberal, said she rooted for his nomination to be approved by the U.S. Senate. “He is family,”  she said.

Podrasky lives in San Francisco and usually sees Roberts only on family occasions. His mother is her godmother, whom she adores. She said Roberts knows she is gay and introduced her along with other relatives during his Senate confirmation hearing. She hopes he will meet her partner of four years, Grace Fasano, during their Washington visit. The couple flew to Washington on Sunday.

“He is a smart man,” she said. “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.”


  1. bandanajack says

    they never thought to vet for gay family members did they? of course, if they did, it might have ruled out everyone.

  2. bandanajack says

    btw… she will be sitting in his family reserved seating, given to her by his sister.

  3. MiddleoftheRoader says

    This is one of the dumbest, stupid-ass moves ever.

    As anyone knows who has worked for a judge (or been a judge), good judges go out of their way to be fair AND to avoid even the appearance of unfairness (let’s put Scalia aside, because he may be smart but he has no scruples and isn’t a ‘good judge’ in that sense). For Roberts’ gay cousin to sit in the audience with “reserved seating tickets” that come from Roberts’ office, after she had made public statements about how she wants to get married and hopes Prop 8 is found unconstitutional, looks like “public family pressure” — pure and simple. It puts an extra burden on him to AVOID appearing biased.

    Imagine if Scalia’s priest sat in the audience after giving a sermon in favor of Prop 8? Or if Thomas’s son (from his first marriage) sat in the audience after publicly declaring that he thinks discrimination against inter-racial marriage is different from discrimination against same-sex marriage? Or if Alito had an anti-gay cousin who sat in the audience with tickets from Alito’s office, and this cousin signed the petition to get Prop 8 on the ballot? We would be calling for them to recuse (disqualify) themselves!

    OK, so this was Roberts’ cousin, not his priest or closer relative. But she’s sitting in the “reserved section” because he got a ticket for her. And then she makes the public statements that she’s made? This is lunacy.

    On the other hand, maybe her plan is for him to recuse himself (although she has confidence he will do the right thing!). If he recuses himself, then almost certainly the court decisions below will be upheld — either by a tie vote (4-4) or because Kennedy joints Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan to strike them down, and Roberts’ recusal is actually helpful.

    So, unless the plan all along is for Roberts to recuse himself, I come back to where I started — his cousin (and anyone who backs her public stunt) is an idiot for putting Roberts in this embarrassing situation.

    The pressure on Roberts to “do the right thing” is already huge

  4. daftpunkdavid says

    wasn’t there, in the 4 previous years, a better time to do this? i’m afraid this helps the other side; if he decides for us in either case, they’ll be screaming that he’s not impartial, and was swayed by his cousin… she should have done this before, in the privacy of their rare family gatherings. this sounds like a bad idea. i hope i’m wrong.

  5. Bill S. says

    John Roberts’ cousin is not a persona non grata merely because she is gay and the Chief Justice is not going to recuse himself over something so trivial as having a gay cousin in the reserved section of the audience.

    John Roberts’ cousin is not a judge and is perfectly able to express an opinion on the case at hand. If it were about something boring, like water use rights or zoning laws, no one would say that she is unduly influencing the Chief Justice’s mind. But because she is gay, you are saying that her sexual orientation is magnifying the situation which isn’t right.

  6. kpo5 says

    Front row or across the world, we could probably dig up a gay relative of each justice in a matter of minutes.

    It makes no difference where they sit as the arguments are heard. Point is, everyone and everyone’s family will be impacted by these decisions.

    Should all gay family members have to sit this one out?

    The Justices request only their straight family members attend the hearing?

    That’s insanity.

  7. Pragmatista says

    Yeah, if only Roberts’ cousin had kept quiet the fascist conservative bigots were going to keep quiet after this ruling. Yeah, she sure blew it.

  8. MiddleoftheRoader says

    NO ONE is saying that she shouldn’t attend the court argument; so one is saying that she should hide the fact that she’s gay; no one is saying Roberts should recuse himself because he has a gay cousin.

    Read the news story folks! A few days before the argument that she’s going to attend, in seats given to her by Roberts, she’s made public comments about how she hopes the case is decided and about how it personally affects her because she wants to get married. Are you really saying (hypothetically) that if Scalia gave tickets to his priest, or to an anti-gay cousin who signed the Prop 8 petition, an if Scalia’s guest publicly stated a position about the case right before the oral argument and about how the case personally affects him/her, that you wouldn’t be calling for Scalia to recuse himself???

    Those of you who are downplaying this publicity stunt have no understanding of how sensitive most judges are and should be about appearing biased. It has nothing to do with being gay. As one of the commenter’s said, suppose this was a case about water use rights and Roberts had a cousin who was a rancher who attended the court argument on water rights use — that’s fine, except not if the cousin makes a bunch of public comments, right before the oral argument, about how s/he hopes the case is decided, how s/he hopes Roberts will vote, how the case personally affects his/her ranch, etc…

    For those of us who are gay and want to see the courts and legislatures continue to do the right thing, it doesn’t mean that we need to be blind to stupid actions by members of our community who (even innocently and unintentionally) make it more difficult for their family members to vote in our favor.

    NOTE: This is totally different from a Rob Portman situation. Legislators (like Sen. Portman) are different from judges and are held to a very different standard of what can affect their votes and the appearance of impropriety. It’s one thing if Portman’s son comments publicly and sits in the front row of the Senate balcony when his father votes to repeal DOMA (we hope) — perfectly fine! But it’s another thing when a relative makes public comments about how a case personally affects him/her and sits in the front row of the Supreme Court.

  9. Jake says

    She should have attended without any public comment. It is not appropriate for her to make her appearance or relationship with the Chief Justice into a public matter. She is making it hard for the Chief Justice to appear impartial or unaffected by personal relationships. She should know better.

  10. John says

    I agree with most of you – what a boneheaded move. If this act has any influence on the chief justice, I imagine it only can be counter-productive.

    No one likes to feel emotionally pressured and someone like Roberts may feel it’s his obligation to present a more contrarian ruling. Or one that is less favorable just to prove impartiality. I’m not saying this is right, but he is human and Chief Justice – ego and all that.

    Silly, silly, silly.

  11. Pete N SFO says

    Why are you all second-guessing Roberts, his sister, & their cousin; do you not think the sister has a grip on what would or wouldn’t be a problem for her own brother. Do you really think she would choose this as a means to provoke him? Get a clue.

    Telling the cousin, who obviously has the greatest interest would be a worse decision. Should family remain ‘closeted’ so the American people don’t have to acknowledge gay people are indeed everywhere?

    Talk about a homo-shame-spiral. Get some therapy!

  12. Thomas says

    Middleoftheroader–I clerked for two judges while in law school. They weren’t SCOTUS Justices, of course, but in my experience you’re quite wrong about how judges make decisions and think about issues, or about the role of the appearance of impartiality:

    (1) He has no personal interest in the outcome of the case. That is all that matters. The public statements of a family member or friend are inconsequential: we know how a gay cousin would feel about the outcome of the case. Her presence in reserved seating is inconsequential: we know he has a gay cousin who presumably wants to be able to marry, and that is part of his base of knowledge already.

    (2) Her statements betray a layperson’s perspective about the issues in the case, and those perspectives will have no bearing on his decision.

    (3) The Justices make decisions based on the law, applying a paradigm they believe to be correct with regard to interpreting the law. They are not driven by outcomes; the outcomes, rather, flow from their perspective about how to interpret the constitution. Justices are remarkably consistent in the interpretive stance they take, and are not going to change that to cater to a family member, or to make themselves seem as impartial as possible. Obviously Justices are human beings who exist in the real world, but it is the briefs, their fellow Justices, and case precedent that shape their decisions. It is not some gay cousin who wants to get married, or public opinion. They are concerned about their legal legacy, not about whether they are winning a fleeting popularity contest.

    (4) It’s unclear what an “impartial” decision even looks like in this case. There isn’t a simple dichotomy between “in our favor” and “against us.”

  13. Caliban says

    Jeez. Some of you need to get a grip. John Roberts has 2 adopted children but I’ve never heard anyone suggest he recuse himself from any cases involving adoption.

    The only way to guarantee that Justices don’t have family members on either side of an issue before the Court would be to kill them all, which you’s have to admit is pretty draconian!

    It’s FAR more unethical that Thomas’s wife is a Tea Party leader and both he and Scalia have participated in conservative political events.

  14. Jay says

    I agree that it is not very smart to publicize Roberts’ or other justice’s family members. I suspect Justices are immune to lobbying from family members if not from more frightening groups, but it looks bad. I would be livid if I knew Scalia’s priest-son was making personal appeals to his father to rule in a particular way.

  15. MiddleoftheRoader says

    Thank you Jay for being the only person whose comments addressed my analogies to public statements by Scalia’s priest-on. We would all be screaming. And the same standard apply to Roberts’ cousin: for those of you who didn’t read the full comment, there is NOTHING WRONG with her being there and she should be proud to be openly gay. What is wrong is to make public statements about the case, public statements about his views, public statements about how the case will personally affect her — and then sit in reserved seats that he got for her. Bad.

    And Thomas, thank you for a serious, rational expression of a contrary opinion. I guess we disagree. And I say this from my own experience of having worked for over a year for a federal appeals judge who was very liberal and had the utmost integrity. I can say for sure that if the judge for whom I worked was in the situation where the judge’s cousin was doing what Justice Roberts’ cousin is doing, s/he would definitely disqualify him/herself. You are right, Thomas, in implying that these lines are murky, and maybe your judge wouldn’t have recused. But others would have. At best, it can’t help (unless he does recuse himself); at worst, it can hurt by making him extra-cautious about ruling against Prop 8.

  16. Thomas says

    Middleoftheroader–We had different experiences, clearly, and I understand your position. If I were the cousin, I probably wouldn’t choose to attend in the reserved seating area. And maybe it will look odd to some people, and lead to a little negative chatter. I simply have a hard time believing that this would have a bearing on his decision process. At least in my experience, the oral argument was almost always a formality.

    Thanks for the serious comment and response, by the way. It doesn’t happen often enough on the internet. And congratulations on having clerked for a federal appellate judge. That’s quite an accomplishment.

  17. Left Shoulder. says

    Only two things found in the middle of the road: dead skunks and yellow stripes.

  18. NY2.0 says

    Honestly I would’ve preferred she not speak publicly about her relationship with the Chief Justice and about how she thinks he will rule irregardless of how this affects John Roberts. It just seems to be in poor taste.