ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & HIV Project
James D. Esseks is Director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & HIV Project. He oversees litigation, legislative lobbying, policy advocacy, organizing, and public education around the country that seeks to ensure equal treatment of LGBT people and people living with HIV. James is counsel in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, presently before the U.S. Supreme Court, about whether a business open to the public can turn away LGBT customers based on its religious or artistic objections. Previously, he was counsel in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that won the freedom to marry nationwide; in United States v. Windsor, the challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act; in Gavin Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board, about whether a Virginia school board can bar a boy from the common restrooms because he is transgender; and in successful challenges to bans on adoption and foster parenting by lesbians and gay men in Arkansas, Florida, and Missouri. James and the ACLU have also worked extensively to fight the recent spate of anti-LGBT and specifically anti-transgender bills in the states and to fight the use of religion as an excuse to harm LGBT people.
James graduated from Yale College and Harvard Law School, where he was editor-in-chief of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. Prior to joining the ACLU in 2001, he was a partner at Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard, PC. James clerked for the Honorable Robert L. Carter, United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York, and the Honorable James R. Browning, United States Circuit Judge for the Ninth Circuit.