In a highly unusual move, the lawyer retained by House Republicans to defend the law that denies federal recognition to legally married gay couples has resigned from his law firm after pressure from gay rights groups moved the firm to withdraw from the representation.
Paul Clement, the former U.S. solicitor general, made his resignation letter public—a decision that telegraphs the size of rift between Clement and his former employer, the well-known Atlanta-based firm King and Spalding.
He immediately joined a Washington-based firm, Bancroft, in order to continue representing the GOP.
House Speaker John Boehner had signed up Clement and his firm to argue for the constitutionality in federal court of the Defense of Marriage Act after the Justice Department had determined that it would no longer defend the law’s legality, calling it a violation of equal protection principles.
Clement and King and Spalding were to assume the Justice Department’s legal position in at least a dozen lawsuits nationwide that challenge the constitutionality of the law, which defines marriage as a solely between a man and woman and denies federal benefits to same-sex couples that are legally married.
In a letter dated Monday, Clement, who served as the government’s advocate before the Supreme Court for three years during the George W. Bush administration, said he was not resigning over his personal views on DOMA’s constitutionality, but rather “the firmly held belief that a representation should not be abandoned because a client’s legal position is unpopular in certain quarters.”
He continued to say that he never would have agreed to represent the House GOP unless he believed he had the full support of the firm. “But having undertaken the representation,” Clement wrote, “I believe there is no honorable course for me but to complete it.”
In a statement, King and Spalding blamed the firm’s vetting process for agreeing to represent the House on DOMA in the first place. That decision prompted a backlash from gay-rights groups, which began to pressure the firm and its clients.
Lambda Legal, which advocates for equal rights for gays and lesbians, praised King and Spalding in a statement.
“Today, we learned once again that it is a bad idea to defend antigay bias and discrimination in court, and fewer and fewer people are willing to do it,” said Jon Davidson, the group’s legal director. "Some attorney will no doubt accept this job and defend DOMA in court on behalf of the House leaders — that's the way the legal system works. We're just glad it is not a law firm that has shown respect and support for their own LGBT attorneys, for our community and for our fight for equality. We welcome the firm back to the right side of history."
The firm Clement is joining, Bancroft, also includes Viet Dinh, a Georgetown University law professor who helped craft counterterrorism policies in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks as part of the Bush Justice Department.