Under pressure from groups opposed to the Defense of Marriage Act, the large Atlanta law firm King & Spalding is seeking to withdraw from representation.  In a transparently phony excuse, the head of the firm blames an improper “vetting” process, when everyone in the world knows that the reason King & Spalding is dropping the case is because of protests by groups opposed to DOMA.

Attorney and former Solicitor General Paul Clement has resigned from the firm in protest:

In a letter to King & Spalding chairman Robert Hays, Clement says he chose to resign not because he has strong personal views about DOMA. Rather, he writes, “I resign out of the firmly-held belief that a representation should not be abandoned because the client’s legal position is extremely unpopular in certain quarters.”

King & Spalding had faced protests and threats from pro-gay marriage groups in light of its decision to defend DOMA.

“Efforts to delegitimize any representation for one side of a legal controversy are a profound threat to the rule of law,” Clement continues. “Much has been said about being on the wrong side of history. But being on the right or wrong side on the merits is a question for clients. When it comes to the lawyers, the surest way to be on the wrong side of history is to abandon a client in the face of hostile criticism.”

In his resignation letter, Clement also takes a direct shot at Hays, the firm’s chairman, who earlier today said through a spokesman that “the process used for vetting this engagement was inadequate” — that is, that King & Spalding had not sufficiently looked into the issue before taking the case. “I would never have undertaken this matter unless I believed I had the full backing of the firm,” Clement writes. “I recognized from the outset that this statute [DOMA] implicates very sensitive issues that prompt strong views on both sides.”

“If there were problems with the firms’ vetting process,” Clement says, “we should fix the vetting process, not drop the representation.”

Until recently, the defense of DOMA was being handled by the Justice Department, until an abrupt shift by the Obama adminstration, causing Congress to seek its own counsel.

The attempt to deprive Congress of its counsel of choice based on the alleged unpopularity of DOMA (as Clement says, “in certain quarters”) stands in stark contrast to the position of the American legal community when it comes to representing detainees at Gitmo.

King & Spalding has devoted substantial resources to representing, free of charge, several detainees.  King & Spalding highlights such representation on its website.

I do not criticize King & Spalding for representing unpopular clients or causes.  Such representation is in the best tradition of the legal profession.

I do find it odd, however, that King & Spalding has no problem defending the detainees at Gitmo while not being willing to represent the United States Congress.

Update:  I probably should have dealt preemptively with the inevitable response, reflected in the very first comment, “Defending the prisoners at Gitmo has to do with due process and the bill of rights under the Constitution.”  There are very good and substantial arguments that DOMA is constitutional, regardless of how one feels about the substance of the law, and that was the position of the Obama administration until recently.  The issue is that King & Spalding certainly would have withstood pressure to drop the Gitmo detainees and the legal theories purused, but showed no such courage when it came to DOMA.  No one is saying that King & Spalding must be forced to represent any particular client, but it also is fair to point out the hypocrisy.

The full resignation letter by Clements is here.

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