WASHINGTON—On separate occasions in recent days, lawyers on opposite sides of a U.S. Supreme Court fight over same-sex marriage took an elevator to the fifth floor of the Department of Justice, entered a large conference room and made a pitch to Solicitor General Donald Verrilli and other top Obama administration lawyers.
Each side wants the administration's support in a late-March showdown on the fundamental rights of gay men and lesbians.
On Jan. 18, Theodore Olson and David Boies, the well-known duo representing gay couples challenging California's ban on same-sex marriage, asked the administration to back their claim of a constitutional right to such unions nationwide. On Thursday, attorney Charles Cooper, who has long represented defenders of the ban known as Proposition 8, asked the government to stay out of the case.
These advocates and others in the dispute over same-sex marriage joined a common but little-known ritual of Supreme Court litigation. Parties seeking outside "friend of the court" briefs they hope will sway the court's nine justices often try to get the weight of the federal government behind them. Justice Department officials regularly hear out both sides, with such meetings concerning a couple dozen cases each court term.