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Attorney fees for DOMA defense could reach $500,000

Clement hired at blended rate of $520 an hour

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Paul Clement (photo courtesy King & Spalding)

The U.S. House has hired a private attorney to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court at a total sum that could reach $500,000 and at a blended rate of $520 an hour, according to a copy of the contract obtained by the Washington Blade and other media outlets.

The contract was entered by House general counsel Kerry Kircher, whom U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) charged with defending DOMA in court, and the law firm King & Spalding for the purposes of hiring Paul Clement, a former U.S. solicitor general under former President George W. Bush.

According to the contract, the House has agreed to pay King & Spalding a sum not to exceed $500,000 for all services rendered in defending DOMA, the 1996 law that prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

“It is further agreed that payment for such contractual services may be paid on a partial basis from time to time and in such amounts as the General Counsel may approve,” the contract states.

It should be noted the $500,000 cap could be raised upon written agreement by both parties in the contract as well as the House Committee on Administration.

Additionally, Clement will be paid at a blended rate of $520 an hour for time expended in litigation of defense of DOMA in court and at 75 percent of this usual rate for all reasonable non-attorney time in connection with the litigation.

Notably, the House contract stipulates that King & Spalding not engage in the course of contracted activity in discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or any other prohibited basis — leaving out sexual orientation and gender identity.

On Feb. 23, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder notified Congress that President Obama determined DOMA was unconstitutional and that the Justice Department would no longer defend the anti-gay law against litigation in court. Following a 3-2 party-line vote in March by the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Council, Boehner directed the House general counsel to take up defense of DOMA in place of the administration.

King & Spalding didn’t respond on short notice to respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on the contract or the firm’s decision to permit Clement to defend the anti-gay law in court.

Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesperson, blamed the Obama administration for what he said was leaving Congress the responsibility of defending DOMA and requiring the House to hire a private attorney.

“Obviously, this whole thing would be unnecessary if the White House and the Justice Department would do their job and defend a law that was passed by both Houses of Congress and signed by the President of the United States – a Democratic President, at that,” Steel said.

But the revelation of the cost for hiring a private attorney to defend DOMA was met with criticism from the Human Rights Campaign and the office of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

HRC President Joe Solmonese noted that defense of DOMA places a burden both on gay couples and the coffers of the U.S. government.

“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.”

Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, lambasted Boehner for permitting this expense in defending DOMA.

“The hypocrisy of this legal boondoggle is mind-blowing,” Hammill said. “Speaker Boehner is spending half a million dollars of taxpayer money to defend discrimination. If Republicans were really interested in cutting spending, this should be at the top of the list.”

The degree to which the contract reveals the total cost of House defense of DOMA remains in question. The document only reveals the initial cost of hiring Clement and not expenses of the House general counsel.

Lane Hudson, a gay Democratic activist, said he thinks the contract hides other costs to the U.S. government in defense of DOMA.

“At contract rate of $520 an hour, it will fund one full-time lawyer for less than six months,” Hudson said. “Anyone who can count can see this is hogwash. Speaker Boehner should come clean on how much taxpayer money he will waste defending discrimination, especially given his rhetoric on reining in federal spending.”

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The White House

Biden, Harris, deliver remarks for White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Pulse survivor Brandon Wolf among those who spoke

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President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris listen as U.S. Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-Fla.) addresses an audience in the Rose Garden including federal, state and local officials, survivors and family members, and gun violence prevention advocates on Sept. 22, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Brandon Wolf)

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) addressed an audience from the Rose Garden of the White House on Friday to honor the establishment of a first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

In a press release Thursday announcing the move, the administration said its aim is to implement and expand the provisions of last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act along with those contained in the president’s executive orders targeting issues of gun violence.

Additionally, Biden explained in his remarks, the office will coordinate more support for survivors, families and communities, including mental health services and financial aid; identify new avenues for executive action; and “expand our coalition of partners in states and cities across America” given the need for legislative solutions on the local and state level.

Harris, who will oversee the office, pledged to “use the full power of the federal government to strengthen the coalition of survivors and advocates and students and teachers and elected leaders to save lives and fight for the right of all people to be safe from fear and to be able to live a life where they understand that they are supported in that desire and that right.”

The vice president noted her close experiences with the devastating consequences of gun violence in her work as a federal prosecutor, San Francisco district attorney, California attorney general and in her current role.

Biden’s comments also included highlights of his administration’s accomplishments combatting gun violence and a call to action for Congress to do more. “It’s time again to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines,” he told lawmakers.

The president also credited the the work of advocates including those who were gathered at the White House on Friday: “all of you here today, all across the country, survivors, families, advocates — especially young people who demand our nation do better to protect all; who protested, organized, voted, and ran for office, and, yes, marched for their lives.”

Taking the stage before introducing Biden, Frost noted that “Right before I was elected to Congress, I served as the national organizing director for March for Our Lives, a movement that inspired young people across the nation to demand safe communities.”

“The president understands that this issue especially for young people, especially for marginalized communities, is a matter of survival,” the congressman said. And the formation of this office, “comes from Pulse to Parkland,” he said, adding, “we fight because we love.”

Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, which was America’s second deadliest mass shooting and the deadliest against the LGBTQ community, shared a comment with the Washington Blade after Friday’s ceremony:

“Seven years ago, when my best friends and 47 others were murdered at our safe place — Pulse Nightclub — we promised to honor them with action. This is what that looks like. This deep investment in the fight to end gun violence matters, and I cannot wait to see Vice President Harris lead these efforts. We can blaze the path toward a future free of gun violence. And today marked an important step in that direction.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge: drag is ‘vulgar and lewd,’ ‘sexualized conduct’

Ruling ‘bristles with hostility toward LGBTQ people’

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J. Marvin Jones Federal Building, U.S. Courthouse in Amarillo, Texas (Photo: Library of Congress)

Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued a ruling Thursday denying relief to a group of university students who sought to host a drag show over the objections of their school’s president.

A Trump appointed jurist with deep ties to anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion conservative legal activists, Kacsmaryk argued that drag performances probably do not constitute speech protected by the First Amendment.

As Slate Senior Writer Mark Joseph Stern wrote on X, this conclusion “conflicts with decisions from Texas, Florida, Tennessee and Montana which held that drag is constitutionally protected expression.”

“It also bristles with undisguised hostility toward LGBTQ people,” he added.

Kacsmaryk’s 26-page decision describes drag performances as lewd and licentious, obscene and sexually prurient, despite arguments the plaintiffs had presented about the social, political, and artistic merit of this art form.

As the Human Rights Campaign recently wrote, “drag artists and the spaces that host their performances have long served as a communal environment for queer expression.”

The group added, “It is a form of art and entertainment, but, historically, the performances haven’t only served to entertain, but also to truly advance the empowerment and visibility of LGBTQ+ people.”

Nevertheless, anti-LGBTQ conservative activists and organizations have perpetuated conspiracy theories about members of the community targeting children for sexual abuse including by bringing them to drag performances.

Among these is a group with ties to the Proud Boys that was cited by Kacsmaryk in his ruling: Gays Against Groomers, an anti-LGBTQ and anti-transgender extremist group, according to the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center.

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The White House

Harris to oversee White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Goal is to implement and expand upon legislation, executive actions

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U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, September 2023. (Official White House photograph by Lawrence Jackson)

The White House announced Thursday evening that President Joe Biden on Friday will establish the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, to be overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris.

The office will focus on implementing and expanding upon executive and legislative actions, including the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, “to reduce gun violence, which has ravaged communities across the country.”

Serving under Harris will be Stefanie Feldman, “a longtime policy advisor to President Biden on gun violence prevention,” and “leading gun violence prevention advocates Greg Jackson and Rob Wilcox.”

“Every time I’ve met with families impacted by gun violence as they mourn their loved ones, and I’ve met with so many throughout the country, they all have the same message for their elected officials: ‘do something,'” Biden said in a statement.

The president noted his signing of last year’s bipartisan gun violence prevention law, a flagship legislative accomplishment for the administration, along with his issuance of more executive actions than any president in history to address this problem.

Calling these “just the first steps,” Biden said the establishment of the White House Office on Gun Violence Prevention will “build upon these measures and keep Americans safe.”

He also urged Congress to do more by passing legislation requiring universal background checks, and baning assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

In a statement, Harris said, “This epidemic of gun violence requires urgent leadership to end the fear and trauma that Americans experience every day.”

“The new Office of Gun Violence Prevention will play a critical role in implementing President Biden’s and my efforts to reduce violence to the fullest extent under the law,” she said, “while also engaging and encouraging Congressional leaders, state and local leaders, and advocates to come together to build upon the meaningful progress that we have made to save lives.”

“Our promise to the American people is this: we will not stop working to end the epidemic of gun violence in every community, because we do not have a moment, nor a life to spare,” the vice president said.

Then Vice President Biden hugs Brandon J. Wolf as he talks with family members of the victims and survivors in the June 12th mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, June 16, 2016.
Wolf, a Pulse survivor, was recently appointed National Press Secretary of the Human Rights Campaign.
(Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
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