A Conversation with David Boies

A student from the University of Redlands class of 1964 dreamed of being either an American history professor or a lawyer like Perry Mason. Little did he know that one day he would become one of the brightest and best legal minds of the nation.


David Boies returned to his alma mater for Homecoming of 2017 to share his perspectives and strife in his field of work and the political state of the nation. Boies is one of the most, if not the most, sought after lawyers in the nation, as he has served on many influential and landmark cases, including Bush v. Gore where he represented Al Gore, California’s Proposition 8 to overturn the ban on gay marriage, and represented Sony in dealing with media publication of hacked documents.


After being introduced with all of his accolades, Boies stood to speak and was responded with a a humbling silence through the room. He spoke with a dignified, yet quiet confidence, neither overbearing nor arrogant. He explained that many issues get pushed to the courts because the legislative processes aren’t handled properly and said that is “our failure as a country to operate within our constitutional system.”


“We are in a situation where our government is broken, where we are going nowhere or in the wrong direction. The division of parties is the greatest of all time, when or why it started isn’t important, how we go forward is,” Boies said.


He explained that our constitution is an aggregation of powers through checks and balances, that depends on “consensus and cooperation.” He further stated that how the Primary Presidential elections polarize each side to put forward the most extreme candidates to reflect those who vote.


Boies delineated this through his work in the California Proposition 8 case that legalized gay marriage in California in 2008, where he worked with Ted Olson, who was his opponent in Bush v. Gore, and who he said he rarely  agrees with. But through this case, “we agreed on a principle and found common ground. We were able to communicate not Democrat v. Conservative. It was a constitutional issue, a human rights issue,” Boies said. “This is how we will move our country again.”


After a short speech, Boies opened the floor to questions as he quipped, “lawyers want judges to ask you questions, so you know how to resonate with the court. The last thing a lawyer wants is silence.”


An audience member asked about the current quality of Supreme Court Justices being selected than in previous generations. He explained that the Supreme Court divided on issues in times of crisis. Because of this, presidents have started picking justices not for their legal capabilities and comprehension, but to ensure votes. This has transformed them into super legislatures vs. a judicial body. This is difficult to reverse as if one party does it, the other party has to as well in order to remain competitive.  


“This is vitally important for the reputation we get from division. Reputation is their only power,” Boies said.


The audience expressed many concerns about reliability of media. Boies explained that the popular news stations are “fragmented, they are loud and colorful.” As an extreme example, he brought the fake story of Hillary Clinton and the pizza parlor as obvious damage to their reputation. Boies said that there are too many people that only want to hear what they want to hear, and the news stations are going to cater towards. An audience member was concerned about how media publications was how they hold news accountable for libel. To explain legal journalistic standards, Boies cited New York Times v. Sutherland, and explained how news reporters and publications can’t be held liable for what they say as long as the facts are true. These laws ensure the protection of journalistic integrity.  

“[This is an] enormous protection to our democracy, but how do we apply rule to limits when the public gets fed up and wants to red something more neutral?” he asked. In response to his own question, he said “We get the news we deserve.”  


Boies said that one of biggest challenges of working within the justice system was how to make it equal, while one side may have tremendous resources vs. those with minimal resources. There is a duty to represent the under represented, but to go further and make those platforms equal. When the founding fathers wrote “we the people,” Boies explained, that phrase only included a small portion of the American population: white, property owning, predictably christian males. And it is our duty to expand upon that misgiving.


“Over time we have expanded, we are breaking down barriers,” Boies said. “We fought [for] voting rights, gender rights, sexual orientation, and national origins. We have made enormous progress, but there is still work to be done.”


Boies referenced cases such as Brown v. Board of Education and Obergefell v. Hodges as instances when the Supreme Court has worked towards these goals.


When asked if he was hopeful about the future of the nation, Boies concurred.  He said that the American people have a “tremendous reservoir of resilience and good will. But we often act slowly. This country didn’t get where it was doing things easily.”


As an influential political voice, the crowd was interested in his current work. Boies voiced his opinion about a multitude of court cases, and how they would move America towards progress. Boies stated that “the courts are a last resort because the national and state government isn’t working at the legislative level.”  His main three ways to restore justice to America would be to reduce gerrymandering, remove winner takes all, and place limitations on campaign financing.


Boies explained a Supreme Court case for a Wisconsin case regarding gerrymandering, as the map was unconstitutionally partisan. Furthering his point, he illustrated that he views Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) as unconstitutional because there needs to be limits on financial contributions to political campaigns at the state and municipal level. Boies is currently working on a case based out of St. Augustine, Florida which will create a road map to removing winner take all, where the candidate with the most votes in the state receives all of the states electoral votes, so there will no longer be the possibility of minority presidents, like Donald Trump, and to decrease disenfranchisement.


“We have a common culture that depends on equality of opportunity, the belief of each generation having a fair shot at success. We have to be exceptional to succeed, and we undermine ourselves,” Boies said. Fittingly, in his alma mater, he stated “education is the equalizer.”


photo contributed by Redlands Bulldog Editor-in-Chief, Willow Higgins