As an attorney, this news from yesterday really struck home. Paul Clement, a partner in the very high profile national law firm, King and Spalding, resigned from the firm. That alone is not particularly newsworthy, but the reason he resigned is.
You may remember that recently the Obama administration (yes, the administration, not a federal court) declared the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional and stated that it would no longer defend the law in court. At that point, Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R. Oh.) and other Republicans in the House took it upon themselves to defend a law that passed overwhelmingly in Congress and was signed into law by President Clinton. Mr Clement, a former Solicitor General, and a member of King and Spalding undertook the defense.
As you may recall DOMA provides that even if same-sex marriage is permitted in your state, those so married cannot take advantage of benefits given by the federal government to “traditional” married couples.
King and Spalding, after agreeing to undertake the representation, abruptly withdrew from the matter on Monday. This, in turn, caused Mr. Clement to resign from the firm the same day. In his letter of resignation, Mr. Clement stated that he had a,
firmly-held belief that a representation should not be abandoned because the client’s legal position is extremely unpopular in certain quarters. Defending unpopular positions is what lawyers do.
Whether you agree with DOMA or not, Mr. Clement is expressing a fundamental legal teaching that all students learn within weeks of their first semester in law school. Were it not the case, we would have no one to defend criminal defendants charged with the most heinous of crimes. Of course, lawyers are not required to represent causes they do not believe in, but, having undertaken the representation, withdrawal is virtually unthinkable except in very narrow circumstances.
Even more unusual is the reason the firm chose to withdraw.
The likely story here is that King and Spalding began to fear a political backlash after activists at the Human Rights Campaign launched a campaign to “educate” (read: intimidate) the firm’s clients about “King and Spalding’s decision to promote discrimination.” Clients include Coca-Cola and other Fortune 500 giants that prefer to avoid hot-button social issues. [emphasis supplied]
Should you read King and Spalding’s claimed reason for dropping the representation (referred to in the second link above) understand that, to a lawyer, it is poppycock, and that may be more disappointing than the decision itself.
When groups can intimidate lawyers to decline to represent legal causes because they do not agree with the positions advanced by those groups, our legal system breaks down. And that is the real news in yesterday’s developments.
No real update here, just the title of this post. It originally read “Justice denied”. But, it was changed at the suggestion of “the boss”. Apparently there is a thingy called the World Wide Web, and in order for it to “capture” stuff it needs more info in the title than I gave. It’s all Greek to me, but, when the boss says _____, I do so, lest I lose my “high paying job”.
Hang in there folks, I’ll figure this out one of these days!