- The Washington Times - Monday, April 25, 2011

The constitutional battle over federal marriage laws took another twist Monday when one of the country’s best-known lawyers resigned as partner after his firm’s managers announced they were dropping the politically charged case.

In a move that Capitol Hill Republicans said reflected pressure from gay-rights groups, former U.S. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement announced that he was leaving Atlanta-based King & Spalding and joining Washington-based Bancroft PLLC as a partner after the firm pulled out of the contract to defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which effectively rules out gay partnerships in the federal definition of marriage.

Congressional Republicans vowed to defend the law — and hired King & Spalding — after the Obama administration’s Justice Department announced in February that it would no longer defend DOMA in court against nearly a dozen lawsuits seeking to overturn it.

King & Spalding officials blamed their withdrawal on poor “vetting” of the contract, but Mr. Clement said he was quitting in part to defend the principle that even clients with politically unpopular stands deserved quality legal representation in court.

Congressional Republicans such as House Administration Committee Chairman Daniel E. Lungren, whose panel helped draft the $500,000 legal DOMA contract this month, said King & Spalding’s “cut-and-run approach” stood in stark contrast to Mr. Clement’s “unwavering commitment to his clients and his dedication to uphold the law.”

“Less than one week after the contract was approved,” the California Republican said, King & Spalding “buckled under political pressure and bailed with little regard for their ethical and legal obligations.”

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said through a spokesman that he was “disappointed in the firm’s decision and its careless disregard for its responsibilities to the House in this constitutional matter.”

“At the same time, Mr. Clement has demonstrated legal integrity, and we are grateful for his decision to continue representing the House,” Mr. Boehner said.

In his resignation letter to King & Spalding, where he worked since November 2008, Mr. Clement said his departure was, “of course, prompted by the firm’s decision to withdraw as counsel” for the House lawmakers.

The client in the case was technically known as the “Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group,” made up of the House’s top five elected leaders. The group recently voted 3-2 to defend DOMA in multiple lawsuits after Mr. Obama withdrew his efforts to defend the law, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi one of the two lawmakers voting against the move.

Mrs. Pelosi, a California Democrat who has long opposed DOMA, said Monday through a spokesman that she shared the concern of King & Spalding about what she called “the lack of transparency and accountability in the way this contract was signed.”

Mr. Clement, a highly respected lawyer who has argued before the Supreme Court dozens of times, said his resignation was not based on his personal views of the law but on the principle that all sides were entitled to quality representation in court.

“My thoughts about the merits of DOMA are as irrelevant as my views about the dozens of federal statutes that I defended as solicitor general,” he wrote.

“Defending unpopular positions is what lawyers do,” Mr. Clement said. “I have immense fondness for my colleagues, but in this instance, my loyalty to the client and respect for the profession must come first.”

King & Spalding’s move was hailed by gay-rights groups, who immediately targeted Mr. Clement’s new employer hours after the news broke.

“I think Bancroft PLLC just bought itself a world of pain,” John Aravosis wrote Monday on Gay Americablog. “Go get them!!!” wrote a blogger on Prop8trialtracker, after posting Bancroft’s Washington, D.C., address, phone numbers and website address.

Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal, one of the groups challenging DOMA in court, said his organization was “very surprised and disappointed when King & Spalding accepted this assignment, because they have been supporters of [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] equality in the past.”

“I guess their sense of justice got the better of them,” he added.

King & Spalding Chairman Robert D. Hays Jr. confirmed in a letter released Monday that his firm had “filed a motion to withdraw” from the contract.

“Last week, we worked diligently through the process required for withdrawal,” he wrote. “In reviewing this assignment further, I determined that the process used for vetting this engagement was inadequate. Ultimately, I am responsible for any mistakes that occurred and apologize for the challenges this may have created.”

Mr. Clement will now work with Bancroft partners Viet D. Dinh, a former U.S. assistant attorney general who teaches at Georgetown University Law Center, and H. Christopher Bartolomucci, who was associate counsel to President Bush from 2001 to 2003.

Conservative groups expressed astonishment that highly paid lawyers would suddenly become finicky about which causes they defend.

“It is a shocking revelation that King & Spalding would rather lose their most brilliant and talented Supreme Court lawyer than confront a smear campaign by homosexual activists,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

King & Spalding was subjected to “a campaign of intimidation, with threats from law schools and activist groups that retribution would follow if the firm continued to defend the law,” family law specialist William C. Duncan, director of the Marriage Law Foundation, wrote on National Review Online.

DOMA was written in 1996 with the help of constitutional law specialists, and was signed by President Clinton after it passed overwhelmingly in both houses of Congress. DOMA defines marriage in federal law as only the legal union of one man and one woman. It also tells states that they do not have to recognize other states’ same-sex unions.

In the past 15 years, DOMA has ripened into a white-hot controversy: As states and a few countries began legalizing same-sex unions, those couples have chafed at not being treated as legally married couples under federal law as well.

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