On April 25, gay-rights advocates -- led by the Human Rights Campaign -- scored a victory after the HRC applied pressure on a law firm hired to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between a man and woman and denies federal benefits to same-sex partners. The firm fired its client. There are two reasons you should be outraged, no matter what your position is on DOMA.
One: Lawyers aren't supposed to dump cases -- it's called abandonment -- especially because of political pressure.
Attorney Paul Clement, who was solicitor general under President George W. Bush, resigned from King & Spalding over its decision so that he could continue to defend the 1996 law. In his resignation letter, Clement cited his "firmly-held belief that a representation should not be abandoned because the client's legal position is extremely unpopular in certain quarters. Defending unpopular positions is what lawyers do."
George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley has been a harsh critic of DOMA -- and he doesn't like what happened.
"The irony is, you wouldn't want a lawyer whom you could pressure to drop a client," Turley told me.
In a statement, K&S Chairman Robert Hays had explained the firm's decision to ditch the case as the result of "inadequate" vetting of the contract.
UC Berkeley School of Law professor Jesse Choper finds that troubling.
"If they didn't like the case, they shouldn't have taken it," Choper observed. But having taken the case, the firm had "a lawyer's obligation" to stick with it.
Two: In this country, everyone -- accused murderers, terrorists, you name it -- is entitled to representation in court. Unless, it now appears, you don't agree with the Human Rights Campaign.
When the news of the K&S contract came out, HRC boasted that it would send "informational letters" to K&S clients and to "top law schools informing them of K&S's decision to promote discrimination." The group's communications director, Fred Sainz, described the effort as an "educational" campaign in response to K&S's "business decision."
He was especially outraged because K&S had solicited a rating from the HRC for its record on LGBT issues. It's 95 out of 100 -- and still up on the K&S website. Sainz added that his group never expressed a judgment on the legal ethics of dropping a client, held "no hope" that its efforts would alter the firm's judgment and when the firm dropped the case, "it was a complete and total surprise to us."
Choper faulted gay-rights advocates for saying that opponents "don't have a right to litigate properly."
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