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Given the confidential nature of the job, Hohengarten is reluctant to offer too many details about his year at the Court, except to say Souter encouraged him at all times to be candid. “He wants his clerks to keep him from making mistakes,” Hohengarten says. “I felt absolutely confident conveying my views about the state of the law.”

When his year at the Court ended, Hohengarten decided to stay in Washington. “If you are a litigator, a law practice can be so much more interesting and varied here,” he says. And Jenner & Block seemed a natural choice. The Chicago-based firm has a strong appellate practice in its D.C. office, as well as a hard-earned reputation as a firm that welcomes diversity of all kinds, including sexual orientation. He felt completely welcome as a gay man at the firm.

On the walls of Hohengarten’s office are mementos of his time with Souter, as well as certificates attesting to the fact that he has run seven marathons—all since turning 40. Just as meaningful is a map of the area in Northern Minnesota where he and Knudson often retreat for wilderness canoeing. They’re also building a cabin there. “I love all things outdoors,” he says simply.



As a high school student, Bill Hohengarten ’84 was named “most likely to start a revolution for no particular reason.


In his time at the firm, Hohengarten has worked on a full array of cases, from antitrust to telecommunications, and he’s enjoyed all of it. “I get to be one of the last generalists,” he says.

When he arrived at Jenner, he found that, unlike at many firms, pro bono work was strongly encouraged. And he has since helped Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund in some of its gay rights litigation, but that has not been his only focus. “I believe in social justice generally,” he says. “I would be just as interested in racial or gender discrimination cases. But it’s true that I bring special insights” to gay rights cases.

One day several years ago, Lambda’s executive director, Ruth Harlow, said in passing that she was saving “something big” for Jenner & Block to tackle. In May 2002, Hohengarten learned just what she had in mind.


Hohengarten has run the Marine Corps Marathon four times. He has also taken on the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, co-writing an amicus brief challenging the policy in a recent Supreme Court case. The Court unanimously rejected the argument.


Lambda had decided that a little-noticed Texas sodomy prosecution against two gay men would be the best case to compel the Supreme Court to re-examine its position on gay rights. Harlow asked Hohengarten if he would write a petition seeking Supreme Court review. The battle was joined.

Hohengarten quickly assembled an eager team of lawyers to write the brief, and they made several strategic decisions. Based on his own experience at the Court and on intense study of the legal issues involved, Hohengarten and his colleagues decided to take the bold step of asking the Court straight-out to overturn Bowers v. Hardwick.

It was a huge risk, because if the Court rejected the argument and explicitly upheld Bowers, it could set back gay rights for decades. And because the issue was so politically volatile, upholding Bowers was a real possibility, no matter how discredited the decision had become in the broader culture. Plus, the Court’s reverence for precedent makes it reluctant to overturn its past rulings—especially one as recent and controversial as Bowers.

Still, says Hohengarten, “I thought there was a very good chance that the Court would overturn Bowers. Just in case, though, we also crafted the brief carefully to give the Court a way to support us without overturning it.”

He also made a typically self-effacing recommendation—that he not argue the case himself. Arguing before the Court, especially in such a landmark case, can be the highpoint of a lawyer’s life. But Hohengarten had never appeared before the Court before, and he felt that colleague Paul Smith, with eight arguments under his belt, would be the better choice. Smith is also gay, and having a gay lawyer argue the case was important to Lambda.

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Hohengarten and his partner, David Knudson (at left) are building a cabin near Basswood Lake in Northern Minnesota, where they frequently go wilderness canoeing.