Why is he so optimistic? Partly, it’s constitutional. “I’m optimistic by nature,” he says. “Obviously this is being exploited as a wedge issue now, but ultimately I think most people are going to catch up with what is right.” Thinking back just a few years, before same-sex marriages were allowed in Massachusetts, he says, “if you mentioned it, people thought it was completely foreign.” Even among some gays and lesbians, it wasn’t a popular idea. “They’d say that marriage was a bad institution and we don’t want to copy it.”
Now, he argues, although it is still controversial, same-sex marriage is no longer an unfamiliar concept, and many gays view it as an option they should have access to. “We’ve come a long way in a short time,” he says. And he predicts that a combination of pervasive change in social attitudes, and incremental change in the law, will increase acceptance even further.
After his law journal stint and his graduation from Yale, Hohengarten served as a law clerk for Jon Newman, a federal appellate judge in Connecticut, who had been a prosecutor and trial judge. “He was not a professor,” says Hohengarten. “I needed more exposure to a practical approach to the law.”
As a natural extension of his clerkship, Hohengarten applied for a clerkship at the Supreme Court—a
prized one-year gig that often serves as a fast ticket into the upper echelons of the law. He targeted
Justice David Souter, an appointee of the first President Bush who has become a solid moderate-to-liberal
vote on the Court.
Hearing nothing in response, Hohengarten accepted a job at a law firm in New York City, where he and Knudson planned to move. The day the movers arrived, Justice Souter called to discuss a Supreme Court clerkship. After considerable discussion and soul-searching, Hohengarten decided that accepting the clerkship at that moment simply wasn’t possible. He mustered the courage to call Souter back to ask if he could consider it a year hence. Souter agreed.
The year with Souter was intense and inspiring, says Hohengarten. “I have to say that he is my hero—a model of what a Supreme Court justice should be.” Souter was always interested in reaching the right answer, paying no attention to politics or ideology, Hohengarten says.
To the public, Souter is somewhat mysterious, a seemingly solitary figure who can’t wait to retreat every summer to his longtime home in rural New Hampshire, where he lives alone.
But working with him as a law clerk revealed a different Souter. “As a person, he is really warm and funny,” Hohengarten says, “and he wants his law clerks to remain as friends.” Souter has met Knudson several times, and at a recent reunion of law clerks, Hohengarten was seated next to the Supreme Court justice.