Paul Clement in his Justice Department days.
Paul Clement in his Justice Department days. Anonymous/AP
To the list of prominent lawyers defending former Solicitor General Paul Clement's decision to leave his law firm and keep defending an increasingly unpopular federal statute that prohibits same sex marriage, add this one: Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
At a briefing with Justice Department reporters Tuesday afternoon, Holder said, "Paul Clement's a great lawyer. He's done a lot of great things for this nation. I think he was doing that which lawyers do when we are at our best," by taking on even unpopular cases and clients.
Clement announced he was leaving King & Spalding, where he led the Atlanta based law firm's appellate practice group, on Monday — the same day the firm said it would withdraw from defending the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
That law, passed by big margins in Congress nearly 15 years ago, defined marriage as being between a man and a woman. President Obama's Justice Department declared it unconstitutional earlier this year, and as previously reported by NPR, refused to defend it even over the qualms of Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal.
Last week, House Majority Leader John Boehner announced he had hired Clement, then at King & Spalding, to do the job of defending the law against attacks from gay rights advocates in a contract valued at $500,000 or $520 per hour.
The law firm drew intense national criticism and the Human Rights Campaign and other leading gay rights groups said they had reached out to King and Spalding's clients and recruits to complain.
The law firm's chairman issued a statement Monday saying that the firm was leaving the DOMA cases and blaming problems with vetting.
Clement has joined Bancroft PLLC, a small Washington law firm, and he said he will take the DOMA cases with him there.
His predecessors in the Solicitor General's office, including Democrat Seth Waxman and Republican Ted Olson, have been speaking out to support Clement, even as activists say they may protest outside his new law firm.
In the meeting with reporters, Attorney General Holder likened the backlash to unfair attacks last year on Democratic lawyers who had defended Guantanamo Bay detainees in habeas cases.