The former solicitor general for President George W. Bush who was tapped by House Republicans to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act in court abruptly resigned from one of the nation's top law firms today after it refused to provide legal services in support of the law.
Paul Clement, a partner at the law firm King & Spalding, was appointed by House Speaker John Boehner last week to step in for Justice Department lawyers who withdrew from several pending cases involving DOMA in February. The law defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
Attorney General Eric Holder said at the time that the Obama administration concluded that laws treating gays and lesbians differently deserve a heightened form of legal scrutiny, which, in turn, could result in finding the law unconstitutional.
House Republicans have insisted only the judges should decide on the law's constitutionality, and in a contract with King & Spalding, agreed to pay $520 per hour for up to $500,000 total for Clement and the firm's legal services to defend the statute in court.
But today, the firm made an about face, unexpectedly announcing that it had withdrawn from representing the cases. Robert D. Hays Jr., the firm's chairman, said in a statement that the methods used for vetting the representation was "inadequate."
Gay and lesbian rights groups, which had mounted intense pressure on the firm for accepting the case, celebrated the reversal.
"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 Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. "We are pleased to see the firm has decided to stand on the right side of history and remain true to its core values."
Clement later resigned and blasted Hays' decision in a letter, saying the firm had backed down because its client's legal position was unpopular. He vowed to continue a legal defense of DOMA.
"When it comes to the lawyers," Clement wrote in his letter, "the best way to be on the wrong side of history is to abandon a client in the face of hostile criticism."
Clement said that he "recognized from the outset" that the statute implicates sensitive issues "on both sides" but that "having undertaken the representation, I believe there is no honorable course for me but to complete it."
Clement said he would move to the Bancroft firm and continue in his role as private counsel on behalf of the U.S. House.
A spokesperson for Boehner released a statement praising Clement's decision.
"The speaker is disappointed in the firm's decision and its careless disregard for its responsibilities to the House in this constitutional matter," spokesman Brendan Buck said in a statement.
"At the same time, Mr. Clement has demonstrated legal integrity, and we are grateful for his decision to continue representing the House. This move will ensure the constitutionality of this law is appropriately determined by the courts, rather than by the president unilaterally."