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Former solicitor general and ultraconservative lawyer Ted Olson is a rock star of the US Supreme Court bar. He's argued more than 50 cases before the high court during his career and won more than three-fourths of them. So on Wednesday, when he signed on to a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage, he looked like the great white hope for a cause that's had only mixed success in the nation's courts. If anyone could prevail in this case, Olson could. So gay rights groups must be thrilled that he's thrown his significant legal weight and conservative bona fides behind their cause, right? But they're not -- not at all.
Rumor in Washington legal circles is that Olson commands upwards of $1,000 an hour for his Supreme Court work, meaning that even if some of his work is pro bono, his time on this case will cost a small fortune. While Olson and company have so far refused to disclose who's paying for their work, the PR firm running the media operation, Griffin | Schake, has close ties to Hollywood liberals like Rob Reiner and Jerry Zucker. Nor will the foundation make public all of its board members.
But conspiracy theorists on the Web -- where else? -- are already postulating that Olson has signed on so that he can take the case to the Supreme Court and lose, thus wrecking already well-established gay rights everywhere. But at the press conference, Olson disputed the notion that he was a saboteur. "I hope that people don't suspect my motives. I feel very strongly that this is the right position," he said.
Still, you can understand why some liberals might be suspicious. Olson is the godfather of the conservative legal movement, having been in the room for the founding of the influential conservative group the Federalist Society. His former law partner is one-time independent counsel Ken Starr, who argued in favor of upholding Proposition 8 before the California Supreme Court in March.
As one of the nation's preeminent litigators, Olson has used his formidable skills to defend (unsuccessfully) the Virginia Military Institute's decision to exclude women and to undo affirmative action policies in publicly funded law schools. And of course, he represented George W. Bush during the 2000 election fight that went all the way to the Supreme Court. This history makes his presence in the anti-Prop 8 litigation all the more curious.