DOMA: Republicans lose big-money law firm but keep key lawyer

The law firm that congressional Republicans hired to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) drops out unexpectedly, though a top lawyer has quit the firm to stay on the case.

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    Pali Cooper her wife Jeanne Rizzo, of Tiburon, Calif., appear at the introduction of a Senate bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, on Capitol Hill on March 16.
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The law firm hired by congressional Republicans to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court said Monday that it was pulling out of the agreement. But a key member of the firm's legal team has resigned from the company in protest and looks set to continue to defend the gay-marriage ban, despite the controversy surrounding it.

The Atlanta-based law firm of King and Spalding had been under fire from gay-rights groups for accepting the job to defend the law, which defines marriage as being between one man and one woman. King and Spalding Chairman Robert Hays released a statement saying the firm's vetting process had been "inadequate."

Paul Clement, a solicitor general in the Bush administration, disagreed with the decision to withdraw. He announced that he has left King and Spalding and has taken a position at Bancroft, a Washington-based firm founded by former Bush administration officials. A spokesperson for House Speaker John Boehner (R) said Mr. Clement will continue his DOMA work on behalf of Congress.

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"I resign out of the firmly held belief that a representation should not be abandoned because the client's legal position is extremely unpopular in certain quarters,” Clement wrote in a statement. He added that his personal views on DOMA did not affect his decision, and that “having undertaken the representation, I believe there is no honorable course for me but to complete it."

DOMA, which President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1996, bars same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits and protections given to heterosexual married couples.

After months in which critics say the Obama administration half-heartedly defended DOMA, administration officials announced in February that they would no longer defend the law in court, because they believed the law unconstitutional. President Obama later urged Congress to repeal DOMA, which currently faces court challenges in Connecticut and Massachusetts, two of the five states which recognize same-sex marriage.

Last week, Mr. Boehner said Congress had no choice but to foot the legal bill for DOMA litigation itself, and retained King and Spalding. Congress was set to pay $520 an hour for legal services, with a limit of $500,000, a move criticized by House Democrats and gay-rights groups.

Clement filed a brief in New York soon after King and Spalding landed the contract for a case concerning a lesbian who had inherited $360,000 from the woman she married in Canada, but was forced to pay taxes on the inheritance because New York did not recognize her marriage.

By accepting a role in defending DOMA, Clement is returning to familiar territory. As solicitor general under George W. Bush, where he defended federal law in court. Bancroft, Clement’s new employer, cited that experience in its statement welcoming him to the firm.

“Paul has argued 53 Supreme Court cases and knocked them out of the park,” said Bancroft founding partner Viet Dinh. “He earned the respect of all the justices and wowed the bar.”

On Monday, Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck slammed King and Spalding’s decision to withdraw, calling it “careless disregard for its responsibilities to the House.”

Though King and Spalding earned Boehner’s reproach, gay-rights groups have praised the decision, and have halted moves to embarrass the firm. According to Politico sources, Human Rights Campaign and Equality Georgia had planned protests outside King and Spalding’s Atlanta headquarters, and purchased a full-paged ad condemning the firm in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Those plans have since been scrapped.

Even as Bancroft gears up to defend DOMA, lawmakers in the House and the Senate introduced legislation to repeal it last month.

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