Roberta Kaplan

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Roberta Kaplan
Robbie Kaplan.jpg
Born1966 (age 54–55)
EducationHarvard University (BA)
Columbia University (JD)
Known forUnited States v. Windsor
Rachel Lavine
(m. 2005)

Roberta Ann "Robbie" Kaplan (born 1966) is an American lawyer focusing on commercial litigation and public interest matters. She co-founded the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund and is an adjunct professor of law at Columbia University Law School.[1] She was a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison before starting her own firm in 2017.

Kaplan successfully argued before the Supreme Court of the United States on behalf of LGBT rights activist Edith Windsor, in United States v. Windsor, a landmark decision that invalidated a section of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and required the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages.

On September 24, 2020, Kaplan's firm filed a lawsuit with the New York Supreme Court in Manhattan, on behalf of plaintiff Mary L. Trump, accusing President Donald J. Trump and his siblings, Maryanne Trump Barry and Robert Trump, of decades of financial fraud and civil conspiracy.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Roberta Kaplan grew up in a Jewish household.[3] She graduated from Hawken School in Gates Mills, Ohio, in 1984. LGBT scholar and activist Aaron Belkin was Kaplan's high school friend and prom date.[4] She earned an B.A. in Russian history and literature from Harvard University in 1988. While in college she spent a semester abroad in Moscow and "discovered a passion for political activism when she became active in the movement to free Soviet Jewry".[5] She received her J.D. from Columbia Law School in 1991.[6]


Kaplan served as a law clerk for Mark L. Wolf of the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts. While clerking for Judith Kaye, of the New York Court of Appeals, she assisted Kaye with a number of academic articles. Kaplan's scholarly articles include "Proof versus Prejudice" (2013).[7]

Kaplan joined Paul Weiss in 1996 and was made partner in 1999.[8]

In July 2017, Kaplan founded Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, a law firm dedicated to commercial litigation and public interest matters.[9]

In 2018, Kaplan teamed up with Tina Tchen to found the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund. The fund has raised more than $24 million to provide legal defense for sexual violence victims, especially those who experienced misconduct in the workplace and led 780 attorneys and 50 cases under way.[10][11] The pair later teamed up in 2019 to form HABIT, an anti-sexual harassment advisory.[10]

United States v. Windsor[edit]

In 2009, Kaplan agreed to represent Edith Windsor pro bono. Windsor's wife, Thea Spyer, had died two years after they wed in Canada, leaving Windsor her sole heir.[12] Because their marriage was not recognized under existing U. S. federal law, Windsor received an estate tax bill of $363,053.[13][14] Windsor went to gay rights advocates seeking redress, but could find no one to take her case. She was referred to Kaplan, who later recalled, "When I heard her story, it took me about five seconds, maybe less, to agree to represent her."[15] Kaplan had been co-counsel on the unsuccessful bid for marriage equality in New York state in 2006.[16]

On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision declaring Section 3 of DOMA to be unconstitutional.[17] Subsequent to Windsor, the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) struck down all remaining state and federal laws against same-sex marriage across the United States. Kaplan wrote about United States v. Windsor in the book Then Comes Marriage.[4]

E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit[edit]

Kaplan represents writer E. Jean Carroll, who filed a defamation lawsuit against Trump on November 4, 2019. According to the Washington Post, Kaplan "said she intends to prove that Trump acted with 'malice,' meaning that he knew his statements were false or showed reckless disregard for the truth."[18]

The lawsuit was moved from state to federal court when the US Department of Justice moved to take over Trump's defense (a motion that was denied in October 2020.)[19] Kaplan said she welcomed pursuing the lawsuit in federal court.[19] Although the Department of Justice appealed that decision, Kaplan told reporters, "we are confident that the Second Circuit will affirm the District Court’s comprehensive and well-reasoned opinion."[20]

Awards and recognition[edit]

  • Forty Most Influential Lawyers under Forty, National Law Journal (2005)[21]
  • 100 Most Influential Lawyers, Above The Law (2013)[22]
  • Litigator of the Year, American Lawyer (2013)[23]
  • National Public Service Award, Stanford University (2013)[24]
  • Honorary Doctorate, Johns Hopkins University (2014)[25]
  • Lifetime Achievement Award, New York Law Journal (2015)[26]
  • In June 2019, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, an event widely considered a watershed moment in the modern LGBTQ rights movement, Queerty named her one of the Pride50 "trailblazing individuals who actively ensure society remains moving towards equality, acceptance and dignity for all queer people".[27]

Personal life[edit]

In September 2005, Kaplan married her partner, lawyer and Democratic Party activist Rachel Lavine, in Toronto, Canada. The couple live in New York City with their son.[28]

Kaplan is active in her synagogue and is chair of the board of the Gay Men's Health Crisis.[29]


  1. ^ Walters, Joanna (October 21, 2018). "#MeToo a revolution that can't be stopped, says Time's Up co-founder". the Guardian. Retrieved October 21, 2018.
  2. ^ "Read Mary Trump's Lawsuit". The New York Times. September 24, 2020. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  3. ^ Josephs, Susan. "Roberta Kaplan". Jewish Women International. Retrieved February 26, 2021.
  4. ^ a b Kaplan, Roberta A., with Lisa Dickey (2015). Then Comes Marriage: United States V. Windsor and the Defeat of DOMA. New York: W.W. Norton. ISBN 9780393248678.
  5. ^ Josephs, Susan. "Roberta Kaplan". Jewish Women International. Retrieved February 26, 2021.
  6. ^ Brown, Conor W.K. (April 1, 2019). "Roberta A. Kaplan to Speak at Harvard Law School Class Day". The Harvard Crimson. Archived from the original on May 10, 2019. Retrieved May 10, 2019.
  7. ^ "Proof vs. Prejudice" (PDF). NYU Review of Law & Social Change. 37. Retrieved August 16, 2014.
  8. ^ Pasquini, Nina (May 29, 2019). ""If You Believe That It Is Possible to Break, Believe That It Is Possible to Repair"". Harvard Magazine. Retrieved October 30, 2019.
  9. ^ "Roberta Kaplan, Champion of DOMA Fight, Leaves Paul Weiss to Start New Firm". Litigation Daily. Retrieved July 7, 2017.
  10. ^ a b "Roberta Kaplan and Tina Tchen Launch a New Inclusion Advisory". Fortune. Retrieved October 30, 2019.
  11. ^ Walters, Joanna (October 21, 2018). "#MeToo a revolution that can't be stopped, says Time's Up co-founder". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved October 30, 2019.
  12. ^ Gray, Eliza (December 11, 2013). "Runner-Up: Edith Windsor The Unlikely Activist". Time. Retrieved July 18, 2014.
  13. ^ Levy, Ariel. "Ariel Levy: How Edith Windsor Won a Landmark Case for Gay Marriage". The New Yorker. Retrieved July 18, 2014.
  14. ^ Jim, Dwyer (June 7, 2012). "She Waited 40 Years to Marry, Then When Her Wife Died, the Tax Bill Came". New York Times. Retrieved October 21, 2017.
  15. ^ Applebome, Peter (December 10, 2012). "Reveling in Her Supreme Court Moment". The New York Times. Retrieved April 27, 2014.
  16. ^ Hartocollis, Anemona (July 7, 2006). "New York Judges Reject Any Right to Gay Marriage". New York Times. Retrieved October 21, 2017.
  17. ^ Liptak, Adam (June 26, 2013). "Supreme Court Bolsters Gay Marriage With Two Major Rulings". New York Times. Retrieved October 21, 2017.
  18. ^ Reinhard, Bet (November 4, 2019). "New York writer who accused Trump of sexual assault sues him for defamation". Washington Post. Retrieved January 18, 2021. Trump said Carroll was 'totally lying' and 'not my type' when she made her accusation this summer. Carroll’s attorney, Roberta Kaplan, said she intends to prove that Trump acted with 'malice,' meaning that he knew his statements were false or showed reckless disregard for the truth.
  19. ^ a b Gerstein, Josh; Cheney, Kyle (October 27, 2020). "Federal judge rebuffs Justice Department's bid to aid Trump in defamation case". Politico. Retrieved January 18, 2021.
  20. ^ Mangan, Dan (November 25, 2020). "DOJ appeals ruling that kept Trump as defendant in E. Jean Carroll rape claim case". CNBC. Retrieved January 18, 2021. It remains to be seen whether the new Attorney General will agree that Trump was acting within the scope of his employment as President when he defamed our client. In any event, we are confident that the Second Circuit will affirm the District Court’s comprehensive and well-reasoned opinion.
  21. ^ "Roberta Kaplan, 38". National Law Journal. May 9, 2005. Retrieved August 16, 2014.
  22. ^ "Above the Law's 2013 Lawyer of the Year Competition". Retrieved July 18, 2014.
  23. ^ "Litigator of the Year: Roberta Kaplan". The American Lawyer. January 2, 2014. Retrieved July 18, 2014.
  24. ^ "2013 Recipients | Stanford Law School". October 29, 2013. Retrieved August 6, 2014.
  25. ^ Rector, Kevin (May 22, 2014). "DOMA plaintiff, attorney receive honorary degrees, applause at Hopkins commencement". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved August 6, 2014.
  26. ^ Baker, Rebecca. "Lifetime Achievement: Roberta Kaplan". New York Law Journal. Retrieved October 21, 2017.
  27. ^ "Queerty Pride50 2019 Honorees". Queerty. Retrieved June 18, 2019.
  28. ^ Wolfe, Anna. "'Justice, Justice, Thou Shalt Pursue': The JFP Interview with Roberta Kaplan".
  29. ^ Hoffman, Allison (March 24, 2013). "Gay Marriage's Legal Crusader". Tablet Magazine. Retrieved August 16, 2014.

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