Marriage Act Defense to Cost House Republicans $520 an Hour for Lawyer

VIDEO: The president instructs the justice department to stop defending the 1996 law.
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The Harvard-educated private attorney tapped by House Republicans to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court will cost taxpayers $520 per hour, according to a copy of the legal services contract reviewed by ABC News.

House Speaker John Boehner appointed Paul D. Clement, former Solicitor General for George W. Bush, to the job Monday, nearly two months after the Justice Department said its lawyers would no longer defend DOMA in court.

Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department concluded that laws treating gays and lesbians differently deserve a heightened form of legal scrutiny, which, in turn, would result in finding the law unconstitutional.

Under the arrangement with the U.S. House of Representatives, Clement will now be "principally responsible" for arguing on behalf of the 1996 law in at least 12 pending cases challenging its constitutionality. But a "substantial portion" of the legal work will be done by two of Clement's associates from the law firm King & Spalding, Daryl Joseffer and Jeffrey Bucholtz.

The contract says the government will not spend more than $500,000 total for all legal services performed in defense of the law. But it does not rule out a new contract if the ceiling is reached.

The cost of defending DOMA, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman for federal purposes, has drawn fire from Democrats who say Republicans are spending taxpayer dollars unnecessarily.

"The hypocrisy of this legal boondoggle is mind-blowing," said Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. "If Republicans were really interested in cutting spending, this should be at the top of the list."

But Republicans insist that the Obama administration has created the predicament by not following precedent in defending an established law, whether they support it or not.

Boehner indicated in a letter Monday to Pelosi that he intends to offset the cost of a private counsel with reductions from the Justice Department's budget.

"It is my intent that those funds be diverted to the House for reimbursement of any costs incurred by and associated with the House, and not DOJ, defending DOMA," Boehner wrote.

The House and Senate would have to approve any shift in appropriations. In the interim, funding will come from the House Administration Committee, Boehner said in his letter.

Holder told the House Appropriations Committee last month that the Justice Department likely couldn't measure fiscal savings from not defending DOMA.

"The people who would be defending the statute ... are career employees of the Department of Justice, who will not be spending their time doing that; they will be spending their time doing other things," he said. "I'm not sure that I see any savings as a result of the decision that I announced with the president."

Clement, who has argued more than 50 cases before the Supreme Court, also represents the National Football League in its ongoing legal dispute with the NFL Players Association.

ABC News' John Parkinson contributed to this report.

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