As one of its first acts of the 113th Congress, the U.S. House on Thursday approved a set of governing rules that includes language authorizing the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group to defend the Defense of Marriage Act against litigation in court.
By a vote of 228-196, the House voted in favor of a 23-page long resolution giving authority to the BLAG, a five-member Republican-controlled House panel which has taken up defense of DOMA since the administration stopped defending the law. The resolution allows BLAG to intervene in other cases challenging DOMA and gives authority for BLAG to speak for the House before the Supreme Court.
Michael Steel, a spokesperson for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said the House approved the rules because Republicans believe DOMA’s constitutionality should be decided by the courts.
“We continue to believe the constitutionality of the law should be judged by the court, not the president unilaterally — and will provide the resources needed to protect our system of checks and balances,” Steel said.
Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), lambasted Republicans over the language and continued use of taxpayer dollars to defend DOMA, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
“House Republicans will send a clear message to LGBT families: their fiscal responsibility mantra does not extend to their efforts to stand firmly on the wrong side of the future,” Hammill said. “Republicans will take the extraordinary measure of including an authorization of their efforts to defend DOMA in the Rules of the House of Representatives and by doing so, continue to spend taxpayer funds, already adding up to $1.7 million, in their attempts to defend this shameful law in federal courts and the Supreme Court.”
Hammill took particular issue with language in the resolution saying BLAG speaks for the entire the chamber. As BLAG has defended DOMA, House Democrats have filed numerous friend-of-the-court briefs asserting the anti-gay law is unconstitutional.
In September, House Republicans signed a new agreement with former U.S. solicitor general Paul Clement to defend DOMA on behalf on BLAG. The contract, which wasn’t revealed under after Election Day, raises the cost cap to defend DOMA to $2 million.
In a joint statement, House LGBT Equality Caucus Members Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Jared Polis (D-Colo), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), and newly sworn-in openly gay members of the U.S. House Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), and Mark Takano (D-Calif.) denounced the move by House Republicans.
“It has been 16 years since Congress enacted DOMA, and the arguments being made to defend the law do not withstand the test of time or scrutiny,” the lawmakers said. “At a time when families are struggling to make ends meet and asking Congress to focus on jobs and the economy, all Members should object to the use of taxpayer dollars to pay costly legal fees to make arguments that lack adequate factual or legal support, in pursuit of a law that is not worthy of a defense.”
Among the Republicans who voted in favor of the rules were the two GOP co-sponsors of the Respect for Marriage Act, legislation to repeal DOMA: Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.). Only one Republican, Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) joined Democrats in opposing the rules.
The language is new and marks the first the entire House chamber has voted in favor of giving authority to BLAG. The panel wasn’t operating under the language in the previous Congress. The House approved the language not only at a time when the Supreme Court is considering a litigation challenging DOMA, Windsor v. United States, but also when the court is asking parties for briefs on whether BLAG has standing to defend the statute.
The language in the rules related to BLAG follows:
(1) CONTINUING AUTHORITY FOR THE BIPARTISAN LEGAL ADVISORY GROUP.—
(A) The House authorizes the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the 113th Congress—
(i) to act as successor in interest to the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the 112th Congress with respect to civil actions in which it intervened in the 112th Congress to defend the constitutionality of section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (1 U.S.C. 7) or related provisions of titles 10, 31, and 38, United States Code, in- cluding in the case of Windsor v. United States, 833 F. Supp.2d 394 (S.D.N.Y. June 6, 2012), aff’d, 699 F.3d 169 (2d Cir. Oct. 18, 2012), cert. granted, No. 12– 307 (Dec. 7, 2012), cert. pending No. 12– 63 (July 16, 2012) and 12-ll (Dec.ll2012);
(ii) to take such steps as may be appropriate to ensure continuation of such civil actions; and
(iii) to intervene in other cases that involve a challenge to the constitutionality of section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act or related provisions of titles 10, 31, and 38, United States Code.
(B) Pursuant to clause 8 of rule II, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group continues to speak for, and articulate the institutional position of, the House in all litigation matters in which it appears, including in Windsor v. United States.