Faculty & Firm
Professor Peter Nicolas Meets Alumna Wendy Goffe of Graham & Dunn
Wendy Goffe, ‘92, met University of Washington law professor Peter Nicolas for the first time in May, but she already knew his legal writing. Nicolas, in turn, was familiar with Goffe’s legislative work and public speaking on marriage rights for sexual minorities. From the halls of academia to the glassed-in conference rooms of Seattle’s Graham & Dunn, perched on the very edge of Puget Sound, Nicolas and Goffe are marching together in the fight to achieve marriage equality for all citizens. Nicolas points out this right is already granted under the constitution, but is still being hashed out in the state and federal court system. “My view is that the U.S. Constitution, properly interpreted, already recognizes that right,” he explains, adding the caveat, “certainly not everybody supports that view. The field is not limited to federal constitutional law—we’ve got fifty states to deal with.” Nicolas, the Jeffrey & Susan Brotman Professor of Law, is a Harvard Law alumnus and constitutional law expert who arrived in Seattle in the late 1990s to teach federal jurisdiction and evidence law at UW. In those years, he says, issues of legal rights of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered (GLBT) community came up occasionally in related classes, such as family law, but not often enough to thoroughly tackle the issue. On top of that, students most interested in the topic—often sexual minorities themselves—were often uneasy about bringing the subject up, unsure of how their sexual identity would be treated.
Approached by the school’s GLBT club, The Outlaws, he started working on creating a course specific to GLBT legal issues. Although similar courses were being taught at other law schools, Nicolas found it a challenge, “because I hadn’t learned any of that stuff from my professors, who generally avoided discussing the issue.” The course, GLBT Rights and the Constitution (Law E522), became a reality in 2003. It was taught every other year at first and is now an annual offering. Nicolas notes that the field has changed a lot in these eight years. “When I started teaching, Bowers v. Hardwick was still the standard…Marriage was a pipe dream for same sex couples.” (In that 1986 case, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a Georgia law criminalizing consensual sodomy between two people of the same sex. Lower federal and state courts then used Bowers to support laws discriminating against gays and lesbians in public employment, child custody, and adoption.) Starting in the early 1990s, Goffe’s career was taking a similar trajectory on the business side of the law and she’s built a long-standing and successful practice as an estate attorney. Her clients are mostly high-net-worth individuals and families, but back then she was a newly minted attorney whose career start coincided with the dot-com boom. All those people Microsoft was hiring were “getting to the point where they needed more sophisticated planning,” she recalls. “I was at the point in my career when I could do it…[and] got involved with a lot of unmarried and same-gender couples.