UPDATE: Paul Clement, Bush’s former solicitor general, who was going to take on the DOMA case personally, just quit his firm over this. More from John below.
A significant development this morning in John Boehner’s crusade to defend DOMA. He lost his lawyers, King and Spalding.
NOTE FROM JOHN: This is a huge deal. Lawyers don’t just drop cases. King & Spalding knew DOMA was controversial, but they took the case anyway. Then, once the controversy erupted last week, they fled. Granted, things were looking bad for King & Spalding. Petitions had been launched. Their embarrassing contract with Boehner was leaked, a contract that appeared to forbid any an all employees of King & Spalding, even those not working on the case, from doing any gay rights advocacy opposing DOMA (including, it seemed, even donating to a gay rights cause that didn’t toe the official Boehner line on DOMA).
There’s something more important going on here, I think. In the same way that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal became a larger litmus test of Obama’s commitment to his base (and thus, became important to more than just the gay community), DOMA repeal is important to more than just gays. We have straight allies who care about our civil rights, and are willing to fight for them.
I think King & Spalding expected anger from the gay community. I’m not sure they expected the straights to join in to the degree they likely did. I don’t know what happened behind the scenes at King & Spalding, but I suspect it wasn’t pretty.
It will be interesting to see what firm now picks up the bigoted, discriminatory case that puts them on a par with segregationist law firms during the 50s and 60s. Whoever it is, they’re going to be facing a civil rights community, gay and straight, that now has tasted blood on this issue. I cannot imagine how the firm that eventually takes this case isn’t going to face serious protests during their fall recruitment campaigns on law school campuses. Law students wanting to interview with the firm are going to have to pass picket lines of students yelling “hate” and “bigot.” Not to mention, students signing up for interviews who are actually plants who will erupt in protest once the interview begins.
To reiterate: This case was too hot for even George Bush’s lawyer.
It’s going to be a fun fall for some lucky firm.
UPDATE: About Paul Clement quitting the firm. Good riddance. He 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. One might think that even the Nazis are permitted to march in Skokie, regardless of how abhorrent the notion, but it doesn’t mean you jump up and offer to be the Nazis’ lawyer.
King & Spalding chose equality over their own top lawyer – I strongly suspect that Clement gave them an ultimatum, drop the case and I quit the firm. Kudos to the firm for hanging tough. (Not to mention, there’s still that weird “don’t advocate on behalf of DOMA repeal” clause that was in the contract. Clement is responsible for that as well, so his hands are hardly clean.)