Whether in the courtroom or the yoga
studio, Aronchick’s guideposts are strength
and balance. As a founding partner at
Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller,
the litigator has had a hand in some of the
city’s and state’s most famous cases.
An old-school activist born of the
protests of the 1960s and ’70s, Aronchick
still has a passion for civic justice, which
inspired him to help lead the effort against
Pennsylvania’s Defense of Marriage Act. He
supplements his devout Jewish faith with a
healthy dose of curiosity, which leads him
to try everything from meditation to power
yoga to past-life regression therapy.
As a political powerhouse, he was close
to former Gov. Ed Rendell. “I handled
a lot of the ‘big-problem’ cases that Ed
Rendell had,” Aronchick says. “I mean,
the really big stuff. The kind that needed
a lot of sophisticated legal work and high-level advocacy,” including the governor’s
budgetary retooling for education.
After helping Bill Green win the
mayoral election in 1979, Aronchick
eventually became the youngest city
solicitor in modern Philadelphia history
at the age of 33—and over the years grew
to prominence as a major ally for the
likes of Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean and
And, at 68, he still kills with kindness
everyone he meets.
THE SodA TAx iS conSidErEd a
cornerstone piece of legislation for Mayor
Kenney. For Aronchick, it’s simply one of
his many legacies.
Just ask Helena Miller and Dara
Raspberry. The Philadelphia women
were two of 23 plaintiffs on Whitewood
v. Wolf. Aronchick, along with a team of
Hangley Aronchick lawyers, ACLU lawyers
and Seth Kreimer from the University of
Pennsylvania Law School, filed suit in
U.S. District Court, seeking to overturn
Pennsylvania’s 1996 statutory ban on
Miller and Raspberry had been
married in Connecticut, and moved from
New York to Philadelphia to be closer
to Miller’s family. The women had just
welcomed their first child, but were
considered unmarried in their new state.
They’d needed to enlist legal help just to
undergo the lengthy and costly second-parent adoption procedure.
Adds Miller: “There were moments
where he said—and I believed him—that
this is the most important thing he’s ever
done. He spoke so eloquently about love,
and he really honored what we represented
and what we did. Around Mark, it was
never about the legalese. It was always
very personal with him.”
Aronchick grew up in Bradley Beach,
New Jersey, across town from one
Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen.
His upbringing was a lot like Bruce's
best songs: blue-collar, scrappy. His
dad ran a restaurant with his brothers
while his mother worked a variety of
secretarial jobs. Aronchick remembers
the lower-middle-class neighborhood for
its gumption and sense of community.
The town’s only synagogue forged
togetherness, and his mother—“brilliant
and fiercely principled”—influenced his
decision to be of service to the public.
Along with some friends, they formed
the “Kids for Kennedy” club in 1960
and marched around the neighborhood
wearing buttons and waving signs. Later,
Aronchick won a town-wide essay contest
on the topic “What America Means to Me”
that led to a trip to the state legislature
in Trenton, where he was formally
recognized by the General Assembly.
“After that, I just got the bug,” he says.
He earned enough scholarships to
attend the University of Pennsylvania,
where he worked in kitchens to make some
extra money, heading home on weekends
to drive a Good Humor ice cream truck for
a little more. He and some coworkers even
drove several trucks to Woodstock.
At Penn, he immersed himself in student
protests and civil rights and environmental
activism. He became a research assistant
to Dr. Henry Abraham, a well-known
political science professor, and delved into
urban studies issues like alternatives to
incarceration under the tutelage of then-
teaching assistant and future civil rights
legal legend David Rudovsky. “I saw the
possibilities,” Aronchick says. “Becoming a
lawyer felt like a natural fit.”
From there it was University of
Washington School of Law. In his first week
on campus, Aronchick joined a handful
of fellow students in suing the school
in an effort to force the administration
and faculty to open up their meetings
“We had a piece of paper that meant
nothing to the state: Everything from
legal rights to taxes to benefits weren’t
recognized in Pennsylvania,” Miller says.
“It was a little demeaning, to feel like
we’re equal to others, to be recognized as
equal—but not being treated as equals in
Aronchick and the team built their
case around stories like these; they made
it personal. The complaint, filed in July
2013, reads less like a legal document and
more like an evocative piece of literature.
It contains personal vignettes—in which
the plaintiffs are referred to by their first
names—about love and loss, families and
careers, challenges and sacrifice, and the
little slices of life that painted them as not
only everyday couples, but as couples who
embodied traditional marriage vows.
“When you finish reading the first 30
pages of the complaint,” Aronchick says,
“I guarantee you, if you have any blood
coursing through your veins, you put the
complaint down at that point and say, ‘I am
not discriminating against these people.’”
The case went to summary judgment,
allowing the court to rule solely on the
briefs without a trial. In May 2014, U.S.
District Court Judge John E. Jones III, a
Republican appointee of President George
W. Bush, released his landmark opinion
in poetic fashion, tying each hallmark
wedding vow (“for better, for worse,” “for
richer, for poorer”) to the plaintiffs’ stories,
and ruling that, “We now join the 12 federal
district courts across the country which,
when confronted with these inequities in
their own states, have concluded that all
couples deserve equal dignity in the realm
The momentous, battleground-state
decision was part of a sea change.
Throughout the summer, governors in
other states followed suit, and a year later,
the Obergefell decision legalized same-sex
To Aronchick, it was a victory for
humanity and love, and it came about by
caring passionately about the people and
the circumstances surrounding the case.
“That is the magic of winning cases or
getting good settlements,” he says.
“I always felt like Mark was fighting
for us,” says Raspberry. “I always felt so
confident in their corner, that they were
going to get the job done.”