President Obama shares the view expressed earlier this week by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that attacks on the private attorney who volunteered to litigate on behalf of the Defense of Marriage Act are “misplaced,” according to the White House.
Under questioning from the Washington Blade, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said during an off-camera press gaggle Wednesday that statements from Holder, who earlier this week rebuffed those who would vilify former U.S. solicitor general Paul Clement for taking up defense of DOMA, reflected Obama’s position.
“We do share Eric Holder’s views on this,” Carney said. “We think — as we said from the beginning when we talked about — when I did from this podium — about the decision no longer from the administration to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, that we would support efforts by Congress if they so chose to defend it. And so I have nothing to add to the attorney general’s comments.”
Following a party-line vote by the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group in March, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) directed House General Counsel Kerry Kercher to take up defense of DOMA in court. President Obama had earlier announced that he determined the 1996 anti-gay statute prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and that his administration would no longer defend it in court.
On April 14, Kircher executed a contract with Clement, who was then affiliated with the firm King & Spalding, for assistance with defense of DOMA at a blended rate of $520 an hour and initial total sum cap that could reach $500,000.
Following intense criticism from the LGBT community, King & Spalding announced that it would no longer participate in defense of the anti-gay law because of an inadequate vetting process in taking up the case. Clement resigned from his position at the firm and took up a partnership at Bancroft LLC while pledging to continue to defend DOMA.
According to Politico, Holder earlier this week rejected attacks on Clement from the LGBT community during a roundtable with reporters and came to the defense of the private attorney for sticking with the case.
“Paul Clement is a great lawyer and has done a lot of really great things for this nation. In taking on the representation — representing Congress in connection with DOMA, I think he is doing that which lawyers do when we’re at our best,” Holder reportedly said. “That criticism, I think, was very misplaced.”
Holder also reportedly compared attacks on Clement to attacks on Justice Department lawyers for their past work for detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
“It was something we dealt with here in the Department of Justice,” Holder was quoted as saying. “The people who criticized our people here at the Justice Department were wrong then, as are people who criticized Paul Clement for the representation that he’s going to continue.”
Among the groups that joined in the outcry after the contract was executed with Clement to defend DOMA in court was the Human Rights Campaign, which pledged to launch a campaign to inform King & Spalding’s clients and potential recruits about the decision to defend DOMA. The firm announced it would drop defense of the anti-gay following HRC’s announcement.
Last week, HRC President Joe Solmonese criticized both King & Spalding and Clement for litigating on behalf of the 1996 law.
“DOMA inflicts a great cost on same-sex couples but now its defense is burdening taxpayers to the tune of $520 per hour,” Solmonese said. “The firm of King & Spalding and their attorney Paul Clement should be ashamed at every penny earned in trying to justify discrimination against American families.”
Although Solmonese identified both King & Spalding and Clement in his statement, Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president of communications, asserted that Holder’s comments defending Clement are inaccurate because the LGBT rights group went after the firm and not the private attorney.
“We have a great deal of respect for Attorney General Holder,” Sainz said. “His comments on the particulars of our involvement are inaccurate. We never criticized Paul Clement. Our issue has been with King & Spalding, the firm that employed him. K&S espouses LGBT inclusion on their website. This engagement is completely antithetical to those values and thus our central claim has been hypocrisy. You simply can’t square espousing LGBT inclusion and defending discrimination.”
Sainz continued that Carney rightly observed that the House is fully within its rights to defend the law — now that the Obama administration has chosen to drop defense of the statute — and said HRC doesn’t disagree with the White House press secretary.
“We wish [the House] hadn’t, we don’t believe there is a necessity given the pain and suffering that it inflicts on gay and lesbian families, but we don’t disagree that they have the legal right to defend the statute given that they passed it,” Sainz said.
Richard Socarides, president of Equality Matters, said he’s unsure that Holder’s remarks should be interpreted as criticism of LGBT rights groups for attacking Clement and also maintained the House is within its rights to defend DOMA in court.
“I think that he is a lawyer of a certain political viewpoint, and he’s now at a firm that takes these cases that are highly politically charged,” Socarides said. “The case is now probably in an appropriate place. I don’t have any problems with what Holder said in so far as he’s simply stating the fact that Boehner has a right to pursue this course. No one is suggesting he doesn’t have a right to do this, and if he wants to hire Paul Clement to do it, and Paul Clement wants to represent him, that’s totally fine.”