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Law Firm Drops DOMA Case After Attacks From Gay Rights Groups

King & Spalding, the law firm hired by the U.S. House of Representatives to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, announced today that it has withdrawn from the assignment, after gay rights groups launched a national attack campaign targeting the firm.

The Human Rights Campaign, which planned to protest outside of the law firm and was working to discourage recruits and clients from using its services, praised the decision on its website. “King & Spalding has rightly chosen to put principle above politics in dropping its involvement in the defense of this discriminatory and patently unconstitutional law,” said the HRC.

This is obviously a major setback for House Republicans, and supporters of DOMA. It will be tough for them to convince a major, credible law firm to sign on to the case after this. Some might argue the smear campaign against King & Spalding was an unfortunate blow to civil liberties in our country, but so far left-wing bloggers appear to be relishing the victory.

“Good riddance,” wrote Joe Sudbay at AmericaBlog. “[King & Spalding attorney Paul Clement] trotted out the tired old lawyer defense for everything bad that some lawyers do in life: Our evil acts are really a virtue, because even bad people (or laws) deserve to be defended.  And perhaps they do. But not by you.”

It’s true that King & Spalding had every right to take up the assignment, and HRC had every right to attack them for it. But it’s worth looking back at the hysterical reaction when Keep America Safe simply asked for the identity of the attorneys representing Guantanamo Bay detainees. At the time, Attorney General Eric Holder called Keep America Safe’s campaign “reprehensible.” An op-ed in the Chicago Tribune wondered “Have you no shame, Ms. Cheney?”

The ACLU also issued a statement slamming Keep America Safe for its allegedly “dangerous” “attack” on the lawyers:

Attorneys who stand up for the rule of law by representing unpopular individuals, including those accused of terrible crimes, act in a long and venerated American tradition. They should be praised for defending our Constitution, not slandered. It is wrong and destructive to our democracy to attribute nefarious motives to attorneys because of the accusations against their clients.

I contacted the ACLU, which sent back the following response from the director of the LGBT Project, James Essek:”No matter who represents the House Republican leadership, we’re confident that the courts will recognize that the so-called ‘Defense of Marriage Act’ is discriminatory and unconstitutional.  Congress should not be wasting scarce resources on high-priced lawyers to defend this law, but instead should stand on the right side of history by passing the Respect for Marriage Act and repealing DOMA once and for all.”

No mention of the HRC’s attacks on King & Spalding, or the right to defend an unpopular client. It sounds like the ACLU is opposed to any attorneys defending DOMA, a policy that it finds unconstitutional.

Reuters is reporting that Paul Clement, the lawyer who had taken up the DOMA assignment at King & Spalding, has resigned his partnership in the law firm and will continue to represent Congress.

The American Bar Association, another harsh critic of the Keep America Safe campaign, hasn’t responded to my request for comment yet. Maybe the HRC will face the same backlash for its campaign that Keep America Safe once did. That is, unless it’s become more “abhorrent” to defend a politically incorrect government policy than to defend accused terrorists.

UPDATE: At National Review online, David French points out that King & Spalding have actually represented six Guantanamo Bay detainees. From a 2009 Atlanta Business Chronicle report:

Sometime after he’s sworn in as president, Barack Obama is expected to follow through on a campaign promise to close the controversial U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

It can’t come a moment too soon for King & Spalding LLP partners John Chandler and Beth Tanis, a husband-and-wife tandem who have represented six of the Guantanamo detainees since 2004. The two lawyers, who recently joined Atlanta’s second-largest law firm (as measured by Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 2008-2009 Book of Lists) have spent countless pro bono hours on a cause they believe fundamentally erodes Americans’ basic rights.


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