SCA 1980, Zion National Park; 1983, Appalachian Trail
Attorney | Oakland, CA
Steve is a partner with Boies, Schiller & Flexner, a law practice involved “in every major legal battle of the era,” according to The American Lawyer magazine. Steve has represented a variety of clients in antitrust, intellectual property and other complex cases including Microsoft, Oracle and Napster. He also represented the plaintiffs in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the constitutional challenge to California’s Proposition 8 banning gay marriage. Among his other aﬃliations, Steve is a member of the SCA board of directors.
What originally attracted you to law, and is that still the lure?
I’ve always been interested in policy and legal issues. Studying the law seemed to me to be the best way to prepare myself in the broadest possible way to have a wide range of career options and to be able to devote myself – in and out of my job – to the causes and issues about which I care most deeply. From my work in the public sector for the first ten years of my legal career, to my service with SCA and other non-profit groups, to my current law firm work, I think being a student of the law has served me well.
You’ve been lead chair in some high-profile litigation…
I’ve been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work on cases with significance going beyond the specific interests of the parties. These span antitrust, intellectual property, constitutional law, and many other areas and all have been rewarding in one way or another. For example, my work on United States v. Microsoft not only was successful in obtaining relief that was significant for competition and consumers, but put important and more general issues of economic power and its abuse in the public eye.
Expanding the public’s and policymakers’ consciousness about important issues and demonstrating the possibility of accomplishing significant social or economic change on a simultaneously rapid and thoughtful basis has been a common theme across a lot of these cases. When I think about our constitutional work against prohibitions on same-sex marriage (California’s Proposition 8), for example, it is very satisfying to me not only that the case resulted in important relief, but also that it helped inform and alter public attitudes very quickly on key issues and elevate public debate and thinking about the issue in a way that will have lasting impact on the democratic process.
That experience is something that makes me very hopeful about our ability to combat climate change and other pressing environmental and conservation issues. I’ve generally chosen not to focus my career on conservation directly, but it’s always something in the forefront of my mind in the work I do.
On the 50th anniversary of The Wilderness Act, what would you rank as our most important environmental laws to date?
It is all connected. Land, water, air, species protection are all interdependent parts of the puzzle as we try to confront environmental challenges. This is especially true when we think about climate change.
But if I had to choose, I’d probably say the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and amendments, the creation of national parks and the Wilderness Act. Clean water and air are crucial because they are areas in which core environmental concerns meet core human health and well-being needs. Moreover, the Clean Air Act is more and more important as the vehicle for taking effective action to slow domestic emissions of greenhouse gases.
Of course, lands legislation has also been enormously important in ensuring the preservation of wild places in which all Americans can discover the beauty and importance of nature in a relatively untouched state. I think the creation and protection of our national parks is probably not only right up there as one of the best ideas in world history, but also crucial to building a conservation ethic in this country.
The other thing I’d probably add is tax incentives for production and deployment of renewable energy. Unless and until governments take action systematically to correct natural failures of the marketplace in not placing value on things like emissions of greenhouse gases – and even the greatest believer in free markets should recognize that this is where governments need to step in, as California and a few other states have on carbon emissions – it will continue to be essential to provide incentives to promote the continued growth of clean, renewable technology that will benefit air, water, land, and people alike.
What do you see as the next big legal battlefield on the environmental front?
The EPA’s proposed regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Right now, with Congress unable to pass any meaningful legislation – and it is really remarkable that, for all the progress we made as a country on environmental protection and conservation in the twentieth century, there’s been so little truly significant legislation at the federal level for almost twenty-five years – it is really important that meaningful executive action be allowed to continue and take root. That won’t be without a legal fight.
At the same time, I’m hopeful that within the next couple years, we’ll embark on a new and very fruitful period of meaningful, systematic conservation legislation. Figuring out how to get from there to action on a global level will be key.
Finally, are there any lessons from your SCA days that apply to your work or home life?
Absolutely. Some are very specific and concrete, like continuing to put my experience in trail construction to use through my involvement in the local land conservancy near where I live. Others are more about work ethic and social interaction, remembering that all good things come one way or another from hard work like what I did with SCA in Utah and Maine, and remembering how the whole really is greater than the sum of the parts in undertaking major projects. This is true whether trying to maneuver big rocks downhill into a series of holes that will become steps on a trail, or figuring out how to most effectively marshal one’s forces to sustain the effort and commitment needed to prevail in a multi-year legal battle.
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