Before joining the UC Law SF faculty, he was Deputy National Legal Director at the ACLU, responsible for the organization’s work on race, voting, disability and immigration. Before that, from 1995 until 2010, he was Director of the ACLU’s national LGBT Project. In that position he was one of the lead attorneys on Evans v. Romer, which resulted in a landmark Supreme Court decision striking down Colorado’s amendment 2, which banned gay rights laws. He argued cases challenging the military’s so called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, bans on LGBT student groups, and Florida’s law banning adoption by gay people. And under his guidance, the ACLU won a crucial victory for a transgender former special forces colonel denied a job by the library of Congress.
Coles was the primary drafter of Winning Marriage, the LGBT movement’s 2005 strategic plan for winning the fight for marriage for same-sex couples. He spearheaded development of the ACLU’s “integrated approach” to public interest litigation, which calls for structuring and litigating cases in a way that will win the battle for public opinion as well as change through courts and legislatures.
Coles was a staff lawyer at the ACLU of Northern California from 1987 to 1995 where he handled cases on freedom of speech, the death penalty, jail and prison conditions, and treatment of health care workers and inmates with HIV. He was one of the lawyers who set up the case which successfully challenged the use of the gas chamber in California. Coles also helped defeat three statewide ballot initiatives aimed at quarantining people with HIV in the 80s, and three city wide initiatives aimed at getting rid of the city’s domestic partnership law in 1989 and the early 90s.
After graduating from Hastings in 1977, Coles taught Constitutional law here for one year as a teaching fellow. While in private practice, he wrote San Francisco’s law against LGBT discrimination for Harvey Milk, and its law protecting people with HIV. He also wrote the nation’s first domestic partnership laws (in San Francisco and Berkeley). He handled cases on race, sex and sexual orientation discrimination against defendants as varied as Hilton Hotels, the I.R.S. and the City of San Francisco.
U.S. Supreme Court
- Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003)*
- V.C. v. M.J.B., 163 N.J. 200 (2000) cert den, 531 U.S. 926 (2000)
- Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996)
- Webster v. Doe, 486 U.S. 592 (1988)*
- Evenwell v. Abbott, 577 U.S. 937 (2016)*
- Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, 574 U.S. 1147 (2015)*
- Ohio State NAACP v. Hustead, 573 U.S. 988 (Mem)(2014)(on stay application)
- Fisher v. University of Texas, 579 U.S. ___, 136 S.Ct. 2189 (2016)*
570 U.S. 297 (2013)*
Freedom of Expression
- Rumsfeld v. F.A.I.R., 547 U.S. 47 (2006)*
- Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, 530 U.S. 640 (2000)*
- Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group, 515 U.S. 557 (1995)*
- Chevron U.S.A. v. Echazabal, 536 U.S. 73 (2002)*
State and lower federal courts
- Perry v. Schwarzenegger, 704 F.Supp.2nd 921 and 702 F.Supp.2nd 1102 (N.D. Cal. 2010)*
- Cook v. Gates, 528 F.3d 42 (1st Cir. 2008)*
- Citizens for Equal Protection v. Bruning, 455 F.3d 859 (8th Cir. 2006)(on petition for rehearing)
- Lofton v. Secty, 358 F.3d 804 (11th Cir. 2004) rhng en banc denied, 377 F.3d 1275.
- Levin v. Yeshiva Univ., 96 N.Y. 2nd 484 (2001).
- Hyman v. City of Louisville, 132 F.Supp.2nd 528 (W.D.Ky. 2001).
- Pedreira v. Kentucky Baptist Home for Children, 186 F.Supp.2d 757 (W.D.Ky. 2001)
- Air Transport Association v. San Francisco, 992 F.Supp. 1149 (N.D. Cal. 1998), affd.266 F.3d 1064 (9th Cir. 2001)*
- S.D. Meyers v. San Francisco, 253 F.3d 461 (9th Cir. 2001)*
- Baker v. State, 170 Vt. 194 (1999)*
- Weaver v. Nebo School Dist., 29 F.Supp.2nd 1279 (D.Utah 1998).
- Able v. United States, 880 F.Supp. 968 (E.D.N.Y. 1995), vacated, 88 F.3d 1280 (2nd Cir. 1996), on remand 968 F.Supp. 850 (E.D.N.Y. 1997), reversed,155 F.3d 628 (2nd Cir. 1998).
- Gryzcan v. State, 283 Mont. 433 (1997)*
- Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Alliance v. Pryor, 110 F.3d 1543 (11 Cir. 1997).
- Philips v. Perry, 106 F.3d 1420 (9th Cir. 1997).
- Thomasson v. Perry, 80 F.3d 915 (4th Cir. 1996)*
- Baehr v. Lewin, 74 Haw. 530 (1993)*
- Delaney v. Superior Fast Freight, 14 Cal.App.4th 590 (1993)*
- Jantz v. Muci, 976 F.2d 623 (10th Cir. 1992)*
- Nancy S. v. Michelle G., 228 Cal.App.3d 831 (1991)*
- High Tech Gays v. Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office, 895 F.2d 563 (9th Cir. 1990)*
- Johnetta J. v. Municipal Court, 218 Cal.App.3d 1285 (1990)*
- In Re Reed, 33 Cal.3d 914 (1983)*
- Brinkin v. S.P. Transportation Co. 572 F.Supp. 236 (N.D.Cal.1983).
- McNeil v. Time Ins. Co., 205 F.3d 179 (5th Cir. 2000)*
- Doe v. Attorney General of the United States, 723 F.Supp. 452 (N.D.Cal. 1989), affd in part, revd in part, 941 F.2d 780 (9th Cir. 1991), on remand, 814 F.Supp. 844 (N.D. Cal. 1992), affd. 34 F.3d 781 (9th Cir. 1994), superseded by 44 F.3d 715 (9th Cir. 1995), revd by 62 F.3rd 1424 (1995), cert grntd, vacated by 518 U.S. 1014, on remand 95 F.3d 29 (9th Cir. 1996).
- Gates v. Rowland, 39 F.3d 1439 (9th Cir. 1994)
Freedom of Expression
- Bay Area Peace Navy v. United States, 914 F.2d 1224 (9th Cir 1990)
- Fierro v. Gomez, 790 F.Supp. 966 (N.D. Cal. 1992) and 865 F.Supp. 1387 (1994)
- Smith v. FEHC, 12 Cal.4th 1143 (1996)*
- Duke v. Langdon, 695 F.2d 1136 (9th Cir. 1983) and 701 F.2d 768 (9th Cir. 1983)
* Friend of the Court.
UC Law SF College of the Law
B.A., History 1973
The Profound Political but Elusive Legal Legacy of Justice Anthony Kennedy's LGBT Decisions
70 Hastings L.J. 1199 2018
Reinhardt is Right; Perry is a Case About California
NYU Review of Law and Social Change 2013
The Right Forum, the Right Issue: Initiatives and Family Values
Berkeley Journal of Gender Law and Justice 2013
Lawrence v. Texas & the Refinement of Substantive Due Process
Stanford Law and Policy Review 2005
Try This At Home; A Do-it-yourself Guide to Winning Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights
The New Press, New York 1996
The Case for Gay Rights
Hamline Journal of Public Law and Policy 1988