Under Pressure, Firm Drops DOMA Defense

The law firm hired by House Republicans to defend the Defense of Marriage Act has resigned the case. The Atlanta firm King & Spalding was under pressure from gay rights advocates. One of its partners, former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement, is leaving the firm to defend DOMA himself.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Just one week ago, House Republicans signed up a prominent law firm to go to court to support the Defense of Marriage Act. It's been an eventful week. That law firm has now resigned under pressure from gay rights advocates. The decision by the law firm King and Spalding prompted one of its best-known lawyers, former Solicitor General Paul Clement, to quit in protest. NPR's Carrie Johnson has the story.

CARRIE JOHNSON: The Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. It passed Congress by big margins almost 15 years ago. But since then, it's become a major target of gay rights groups that have sued in several states.

Earlier this year, the Obama Justice Department said it had concluded the law was unconstitutional and refused to defend it anymore. So House Republicans stepped in, hiring the law firm King and Spalding to take the cases. Exactly seven days later, leaders of the firm withdrew, citing problems with the way the cases were approved.

Conservatives like Ed Whalen say something else was going on.

Mr. ED WHALEN (Attorney): The fact that the firm caved shows that the heat was too intense for its particularly low level of courage.

JOHNSON: It did get intense. The largest civil rights groups for gay and lesbian people blasted the law firm, and complained to its clients.

Richard Socarides is fighting to get rid of the law.

Mr. RICHARD SOCARIDES (Equality Matters): All the House of Representatives seeks to defend in this case is the principle of discrimination and second-class treatment for gay Americans.

Mr. PAUL CLEMENT (Former Solicitor General): We have an adversary system of justice.

JOHNSON: That's former Solicitor General Paul Clement.

Mr. CLEMENT: It just doesn't work if you say that defending one side of the controversy is completely out of bounds.

JOHNSON: Until yesterday, Clement was one of the best-known partners at King and Spalding, but he left when the firm abandoned the Defense of Marriage Act cases.

Seth Waxman, a prominent Democratic lawyer, says Clement is just doing what a lawyer should.

Mr. SETH WAXMAN (Attorney): His representation is, in fact, in the very highest and finest traditions of our legal system.

JOHNSON: Clement's taking the cases with him to a new law firm, and he'll be in court in New York next month.

Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

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