Wilton High grad plays role in Supreme Court case

The recent Supreme Court decision that found the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional has a Wilton connection.

Joshua D. Kaye, an associate at the New York City-based law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, was part of the team that represented Edith Windsor, who sued the federal government on the grounds she should receive a tax exemption following the death of her partner of more than 40 years, who left her estate to her.

Section 3 of DOMA forbade her from doing that.

Mr. Kaye grew up in Wilton and attended the public schools, where he says he got an “excellent education.” He followed that by going to Wesleyan University and law school at Duke University, where he graduated in 2007.

After working as a clerk for a federal judge in Manhattan, he joined the litigation department at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.

“My practice is mostly business litigation,” he said. “I often represent Fortune 500 companies in antitrust and securities litigation and other commercial disputes.”

Mr. Kaye was in the right place at the right time for being part of a case of historic proportions.

“Edith Windsor first came to Paul, Weiss shortly after her spouse, Thea Speyer, died in 2009,” he said. “At the time, I was clerking, so I wasn’t a part of the team that initially brought the case and litigated it in the district court. Luckily for me, I was back at Paul, Weiss when the district court decided the case in our favor, finding that DOMA was unconstitutional.

“When the House of Representatives, which was defending the law since the Obama administration had declined to defend the law, appealed to the Second Circuit, I was tremendously fortunate to be asked to join the team representing Edie in the Court of Appeals.”

He helped write the brief for the Court of Appeals, as well as assisting lead lawyer Roberta Kaplan in preparation for the case.

They won the Court of Appeals case, and Mr. Kaye went to Washington to work with Ms. Kaplan to prepare the brief for the Supreme Court and assist in the preparation.

“It was both incredibly thrilling and nerve wracking when the day of oral argument finally came in March,” he said.

The moment that many in the LGBT community had been waiting for arrived with the decision that came from the high court on June 26. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court struck down DOMA, while also declining to rule on Proposition 8 from California, opening the door for same sex marriage.

For Mr. Kaye, the DOMA decision was a huge victory.

“It was easily the most rewarding moment of my professional career,” he said. “It was immensely gratifying to play a small part in convincing the Supreme Court to strike down a deeply unfair law.”

By finding DOMA to be unconstitutional, the Supreme Court cleared the way for married gay couples — at least those in the now 13 states, including Connecticut, that recognize marriage equality — to be treated on equal footing with other married couples.

Mr. Kaye, who lives in New York with his wife, Megan, and their dog, still comes to his hometown often to visit his parents, Annette and Rick Kaye.

Asked to reflect on the case, he said, “One of the things that I think made Edie’s case stand out is that it so perfectly demonstrated the deep injustice of DOMA in a way that people who might not know a lot of gay couples can relate to.

“Edie had been with her spouse Thea for 44 years. When Thea developed MS and gradually became debilitated, Edie quit her job at IBM where she had been one of the very first female computer programmers, and cared for Thea through her illness.

“In 2007, as Thea’s health worsened, Edie and Thea married in Canada. They were a deeply caring couple and their relationship would be the envy of any couple — gay or straight.”

Following Ms. Speyer’s death, Ms. Windsor was required to pay $363,000 in estate taxes. Mr. Kaye sees that as being an open-and-shut case.

“Had Thea been Theo, Edie wouldn’t have owed a dime,” he said. “That’s an injustice that any American can understand.”