U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday he doesn’t have an estimate for the cost of the House defense of the Defense of Marriage Act in court as he maintained congressional action was necessary to uphold the anti-gay statute.
During a news conference on Capitol Hill, Boehner said he doesn’t have information on the expenses for defending DOMA — including the cost of any private attorneys — when asked by the Washington Blade about these expenses as well as any planned oversight on these costs.
“I do not have an estimate,” Boehner said. “But we were placed in a position where we were in effect allowing the administration to determine the constitutionality of a bill that passed the United States Congress because they were unwilling to defend it. I don’t think the House had any choice but to take the position that we were going to defend the work that the Congress — and only the courts are in the position of determining the constitutionality of any bill.”
Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, blasted Boehner for not having the cost on defending DOMA readily available.
“For a speaker so obsessed with budgets and cost cutting, it’s laughable that he claims not to know what hiring outside attorneys will cost the American public,” Cole-Schwartz said. “If the Speaker is going to force taxpayers to defend discrimination, it’s reasonable that the public understand what the bill will be.”
Cole-Schwartz cited recent HRC polling that found 51 percent of Americans oppose DOMA and added most people want to see House Republicans address economic issues rather than defend DOMA.
“Given that a majority of Americans oppose DOMA and would rather see the Republican leadership tackle jobs and the economy, it’s not surprising that he won’t come clean on this or a number of other unanswered questions about the cases,” Cole-Schwartz said.
Boehner directed the House general counsel to defend DOMA against litigation after the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group on March 9 voted 3-2 along party lines to take up defense of the statute. The move followed President Obama’s announcement on Feb. 23 that DOMA is unconstitutional and that the Justice Department would no longer defend the law against litigation.
On March 11, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sent a letter to Boehner asking him to provide an estimate on the total cost of defending the law — noting that the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group approved a resolution allowing for the House general counsel to hire private lawyers. Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, she her office as of Thursday has yet to receive a response to the letter.
“The General Counsel indicated that he lacked the personnel and the budget to absorb those substantial litigation duties,” Pelosi wrote. “It is important that the House receive an estimate of the cost to taxpayers for engaging private lawyers to intervene in the pending DOMA cases. It is also important that the House know whether the BLAG, the General Counsel, or a Committee of the House have the responsibility to monitor the actions of the outside lawyers and their fees.”
On Tuesday, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and other House sponsors of legislation known as the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA, similarly sent a letter to Boehner asking him for a briefing on the costs of defending the law as well as other issues related to congressional intervention in the lawsuits. Ilan Kayatsky, a Nadler spokesperson, said his boss as of Thursday had yet to receive a response to the letter.
“Among other things, we are interested in a status report on who will be representing the House, estimates regarding the cost and length of proposed litigation efforts, the anticipated role of the House in litigation (i.e., intervenor or amicus curiae), and your assessment regarding the likelihood of success on the merits,” the lawmakers wrote. “If you or House General Counsel already have arranged for representation by outside counsel, we would welcome and appreciate their participation in this briefing.”
The signers of the letter are Nadler and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) as well as the four openly gay members of Congress: Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.).
According to the letter, the deadline is April 18 for the House to move to intervene in one of the pending cases challenging DOMA: Windsor v. United States, which is pending before the U.S. District Court of Southern District of New York. The lawmakers asks Boehner for a briefing on DOMA defense issues before this date.
A partial transcript of the exchange between the Blade and Boehner follows:
Washington Blade: Mister Speaker, a question on your direction of the House general counsel to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court. Do you have an estimate of how much this is going to cost the U.S. government — including the costs of any private lawyers fees — and do you have plan for how the House will provide oversight of these costs?
Boehner: I do not have an estimate. But we were placed in a position where we were in effect allowing the administration to determine the constitutionality of a bill that passed the United States Congress because they were unwilling to defend it. I don’t think the House had any choice but to take the position that we were going to defend the work that the Congress — and only the courts are in the position of determining the constitutionality of any bill.