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Former Chief Justice Jeffrey Amestoy Teaches, Lectures as VLS Visiting Scholar

February 18, 2008

CONTACT: Diane Derby

SOUTH ROYALTON – In December 1999, then-Chief Justice Jeffrey Amestoy authored the Vermont Supreme Court's majority decision in the landmark Baker v. State of Vermont decision, thereby granting same-sex couples the same benefits and protections as married couples.

In the eight years that followed, 27 states amended their constitutions to effectively prohibit same-sex marriage.

As Amestoy sees it, that reaction points to an emerging trend – one in which conservatives play an active and critical role in amending their state constitutions to further their interests. Progressives, he argues, have ignored this trend at their own peril, instead looking to federal courts for remedy. Thus, they have found themselves watching the action from the sidelines.

"The essence of popular constitutionalism is to be found in state, not federal, constitutional law," Amestoy told a gathering of Vermont Law School students and faculty in a lecture entitled, An Unruly Condition: Popular Constitutionalism and Same-Sex Marriage.

Amestoy ended his hour-long address saying he hoped to spark the students' interest in state constitutional law, noting the opportunities that exist for young lawyers to impact decisions on such key issues as environmental protection, abortion and same-sex marriage.

The Feb. 11 lecture was a highlight of Amestoy's two-week stay as visiting scholar at VLS, during which he taught classes in constitutional law and met with faculty and students. Amestoy was also interviewed by Vermont Public Radio for a segment in which he reflected on the Baker decision and discussed cases that have followed.

VLS Dean Jeff Shields said Amestoy's visit provided students with a rare and personal glimpse of how the Vermont Supreme Court worked to craft a highly controversial decision, and how the court strived for, but failed to reach unanimity in the end.

"We have been honored and privileged to have Chief Justice Amestoy with us at Vermont Law School," Shields said. "It's one thing for our students to read about such historic decisions. It's quite another matter for them to hear from the chief justice himself."

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