Justice denied: DOMA Update

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!

9 replies
  1. kateinmaine
    kateinmaine says:

    perhaps this is just a convenient excuse to not have to work with a republican house.? either way, it’s moot since obama suspended the rule of law.? lawyers are now on the road to obsolescence, along with fossil fuels, private property, personal responsibility.? .? .

  2. BEA
    BEA says:

    I love what he said about not giving up because your position is unpopular (or percieved to be unattainable) and then he takes a stand for his belief. He has what my grandmother would have called “gumption”. I want to be more like that.

    “I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.” Leonardo da Vinci

    • Lynn
      Lynn says:

      BEA, I thought Yoda said that. Couldn’t resist. That being said, I admire and respect Mr. Clement and hope another firm is smart enough to hire him. They would have someone with total integrity,

  3. Dimsdale
    Dimsdale says:

    “Poppycock”, SOS?? Oh my virgin ears (or eyes, in this case)!!?? 😉
    Clearly, somebody got a “late night phone call” and was told to drop the case.? I wonder where that call could have come from?

  4. Murphy
    Murphy says:

    I’m confused on two accounts – A lawyer with integrity? and USA must stand for United Syria of America (did BO declare a state of emergency to suspend our rights?)

  5. NewCodeGeek
    NewCodeGeek says:

    I wan to say up front that I firmly disagree with the premise of DOMA and believe that it IS unconstitutional. ?As a small “l” libertarian I believe that as long as the government is in the business of issuing marriage licenses, then this is an equal rights issue. ?If the government wants to issue marriage licenses (regardless of the level of government), then using religious concepts to define it is a violation of the constitution as well.

    I say all that not to argue DOMA’s legitimacy, but to point out that you don’t have to agree with a law to state the following.

    The Obama administration’s choice to not defend a law on the books without actually lobbying to get it repealed is at best lazy and?disingenuous?and ?at worst outright deplorable. ?Furthermore, King and?Spalding’s?decision to withdraw should, in my opinion be met with some significant sanction by the bar association that hod jurisdiction. ?I’m not an attorney and I don’t play one on television, but this seems as basic a?tenet as there is around integrity (such as it is) in the legal profession.

  6. PatRiot
    PatRiot says:

    1.? The legal system is broken, like most of Government.? Twisted by those abusing the privilege of their positions.
    2.? We must be careful what we ask? for and influence for.? This issue and the birth cert issue as cases in point.?
    —? If we, as Americans, want the Constitution?and maximum individual freedoms restored, then we must learn the postitive mechanisms from groups like the human rights campaign.?
    Food for thought:?
    A.? “When it comes to principle, be deaf to expediency”. (?).?
    B.? “When it comes to fashion,swim with the current.? When it comes to principle, ,stand like a rock.” -Thomas Jefferson

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