Advocacy organization People for the American Way has a new leader: Kathryn Kolbert.
Kolbert joins PFAW from the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, where she developed a program focused on law and American culture. Prior to that, she worked for the American Civil Liberties Union and helped found the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, now the Center for Reproductive Rights. Along the way, she racked up a healthy number of superlatives from publications like The National Law Journal.
It’s her advocacy in front of the Supreme Court, in particular in 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey, that made her name. Arguing that Roe v. Wade itself was on the line, she went 21 minutes into the 30-minute oral argument before even touching on the specifics of the Pennsylvania law at issue, according to a 1992 report by Legal Times Supreme Court reporter Tony Mauro. According to historian David Garrow, who covered the case in his book Liberty and Sexuality, Kolbert “vastly outperformed” the solicitor general at the time Kenneth Starr.
In recent years, PFAW has expanded into a wide range of issues from immigration to education reform. (When Ralph Neas, PFAW’s president for eight years, left last summer, Legal Times covered the group’s expansion in this article.) Could Kolbert’s selection signify that the organization intends to return to advocacy centered on the Supreme Court
“Certainly that is my strength,” Kolbert says. “But again, I think the organization as a whole needs to meet me and get used to me, and together we’ll figure out where our priorities will be in the coming years.”
First priority: Moving to Washington. She’s looking for a house, and plans to start her new job on March 17.
Then comes the fundraising. PFAW’s revenue has lagged in the last few years, and Kolbert says she’s got her eye on building up the organization’s finances before 2009. “No matter who is elected president in November, the progressive community needs to be strong and pushing the president,” she says.
Prevented from directly aiding any campaign by its legal status as a charitable organization, PFAW nonetheless hopes to boost its visibility in this election season. “People need to understand just how bad the current Court really is,” says Kolbert, bemoaning the “loss of Justice O’Connor and her sensibilities and distaste for paternalism that I think this current Court is all about.”