October 16, 2012 | by Chris Johnson
Boehner maxes out $1.5 mil cost cap for DOMA defense
John Boehner

The $1.5 million cost cap that House Speaker John Boehner has allotted to defend DOMA has been reached (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The House Republican-led panel that has taken up defense of the Defense of Marriage Act in court has maxed out the $1.5 million cost cap set to hire private attorneys to advocate for the anti-gay law, according to a report from Democratic lawmakers.

On Tuesday, Democrats on the Committee on House Administration made public a report stating the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group — which took up defense of DOMA after the Obama administration announced it would no longer defend the law in court — has reached expenses totaling out to $1,447,996.73 over the course of fiscal years 2011 and 2012.

That’s just shy of the $1.5 million cost cap that House Republicans set last year to pay private attorney Paul Clement, a former U.S. solicitor general under the Bush administration, to defend DOMA. Thus far, Clement has lost in five federal courts against lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of DOMA — most notably after U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals became the first appellate court to strike down the law.

In a statement, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) slammed House Republicans and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for their continued defense of DOMA, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage, at the expense of taxpayer money.

“For more than a year, Speaker Boehner and Congressional Republicans have committed valuable taxpayer dollars to defending discrimination and preserving inequality – only to lose case after case in their effort to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act,” Pelosi said. “There is nothing effective or efficient about this utter abuse of the people’s trust or the public purse; it is simply wasteful and wrong, and Americans deserve better.”

Pelosi added that it’s “unconscionable” for House Republicans — including Chair of the Committee on House Administration Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) — to have authorized a contract to hire a private attorney to defend the DOMA in court and renewed her call for them “to drop their frivolous, taxpayer-funded lawsuits without any delay.”

“Rather than join Democrats to create jobs and strengthen the middle class, Republicans refuse to abandon their reprehensible fight to deny basic civil rights and justice to an entire group of their fellow Americans,” Pelosi said. “The American people should no longer have to foot the bill for Speaker Boehner’s campaign to appease the most conservative forces within the Republican Party.”

The report produced by Democrats on the House itemizes the expenses for defense of DOMA on a periodic basis. Total expenses for defending DOMA in court was $702,205.57 in FY-11 and $745,791.16 in FY-12.

The last billable period was from July 1 to Aug. 15, which totaled out to $169,237.35. More activity in defending DOMA has already occurred since that time, including Clement’s defense of DOMA late last month before the U.S. Second Circuit of Appeals against New York widow Edith Windsor’s challenge to the law.

The highest periodic expense for defending was between June 1 and July 31 when $358,736.58 was expended to defend the anti-gay law. At that time, there was a flurry of activity on DOMA because the Obama administration for the first time filed a legal brief against the law in the case of Golinksi v. Office of Personnel Management.

Now that the cost cap for funding the defense of DOMA has been reached, questions linger about whether House Republicans will raise the cap to continue  defend against DOMA litigation, which is currently pending for considering before the U.S. Supreme Court. A provision in contract enables an increase in the cost cap upon agreement of the parties involved.

Neither Boehner’s office nor the House Committee on Administration responded to the Washington Blade’s request to comment about the cost cap or whether Republicans would raise the limit to defend the anti-gay law.

Doug NeJaime, who’s gay and a law professor at Loyola Law School, said he’s unable to comment on the cost cap itself, but predicted that continued defense of the law before the Supreme Court would come at considerable expense.

“I’m not surprised at how much in legal fees has been expended up to this point,” NeJaime said. “There are multiple DOMA suits pending and there has been a flurry of activity at the Supreme Court, and BLAG is represented by an experienced and expensive legal team. If the Supreme Court takes up DOMA, these fees will increase considerably.”

Other Democrats followed Pelosi’s lead in criticizing House Republicans. New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, took Boehner to task in a statement for expending $1.5 million to pay for the defense of the anti-gay law.

“Speaker Boehner has wasted more than a year, and more than $1.5 million taxpayer dollars defending DOMA,” Nadler said. “So far, he has lost five cases in a row as every court has ruled that there is no legitimate justification for this law. Every day, DOMA harms thousands of American couples and their children. Instead of wasting taxpayer money defending this unjust law in court, Speaker Boehner should join us in our effort to repeal it.”

In a separate statement to the Blade, Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) decried House Republicans’ defense of DOMA in response to an inquiry on whether he’d oppose further raising the cost cap for House Republicans to advocate on behalf of DOMA in court.

“It’s a waste of taxpayer money to spend more on overpriced lawyers to defend an outdated, unconstitutional law – one that is opposed by the majority of Americans,” Honda said. “We should be focused on creating jobs, bringing down the deficit, and getting the economy back on track. Loving, committed couples are making lifelong promises of fidelity to one another. It’s past time the federal government stop singling out the LGBT community and celebrate these families like any other.”

As a member of the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee, the lawmaker last year raised questions about whether allocating funds for the defense of DOMA violated the Anti-Deficiency Act.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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