The U.S. House has obligated itself to pay more than $500,000 for outside attorneys to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in federal courts. And, in what may a surprise to many, the House has chosen a firm which clearly prides itself on including LGBT lawyers among its staff.
The law firm, King & Spalding, has offices in Washington, D.C., New York, San Francisco, and Atlanta, as well as major cities around the world. It’s website notes that it “actively recruits LGBT law students and seeks opportunities to partner with LGBT student organizations….”
“The best talent is diverse in many ways, including gender, race, sexual orientation and national origin,” notes the website. The site includes a page specific to “LGBT Lawyers,” notes that it provides domestic partner benefits and has an LGBT Affinity Group, and says its “non-discrimination policy prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.” It further notes that the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index has awarded it a rating of 95 out of 100 for the past four years. And it notes that it has “engaged with” such groups as Lambda Legal’s annual civil rights celebration in Atlanta and the ACLU’s LGBT and AIDS Project.
But HRC issued a press release Monday, calling King & Spalding’s decision to take the case “a shameful stain on the firm’s reputation.” And it issued a second press release Tuesday, saying it would wage a campaign to alert clients and potential employees about King & Spalding’s defense of DOMA.
The King & Spalding website mentions that one of its partners, Sam Griffin in the Atlanta office, is a member of the Stonewall Bar Association of Georgia. Griffin’s bio page indicates he is also a member of the National LGBT Bar Association. The website also notes that an associate in the Atlanta office, Brian Basinger, is president of the Stonewall Bar Association of Georgia.
The contract calls for the House to pay the firm $520 per hour in attorney time and $390 per hour in non-attorney time associated with litigation, plus “all reasonable expenses.” The contract also calls for the outside law firm to promise not to discriminate on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or any other prohibited basis, and shall comply with all applicable employment laws.”
The legal team specified by the agreement includes only former officials in the administration of President George W. Bush: Paul Clement, Daryl Joseffer, and Jeffrey Bucholtz.
Clement served as U.S. Solicitor General under President George W. Bush and was a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Joseffer served under Clement in the Solicitor General’s office and has worked with him on a number of cases since joining the firm in 2009. Bucholtz served as Acting Assistant U.S. Attorney General in the civil division.
The news of the contract drew much criticism from other interested parties. Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said, “If Republicans were really interested in cutting spending, this should be at the top of the list.”
HRC President Joe Solmonese said the cost of the DOMA litigation would be “staggering” and called it “a jobs plan solely for high-priced lawyers bent on defending discrimination.”
HRC said it sent a letter to the largest law firms in the country just last month, “urging them not to take up DOMA’s defense.”
“In taking up DOMA’s defense,” said Solmonese, King & Spalding “is aiding and abetting an effort to score cheap political points on the backs of same-sex couples.”
“King & Spalding was not required to take up this defense,” said Solmonese, “and should be ashamed of associating themselves with an effort to deny rights to their fellow citizens.”
Fred Sainz, a spokesman for HRC, said Tuesday that his group is already reevaluating its score of King & Spalding from the 2011 index. He said the scores given to firms takes into consideration not only in-house policies concerning LGBT people, but also whether the firm takes on cases with a hurtful impact on LGBT people.
“If you take on a case that is hostile to LGBT people,” said Sainz, “that is an immediate grounds for points to be deducted from your score….And this particular case [defense of DOMA] is off the charts in terms of its impact on LGBT families.”
The conservative Family Research Council’s website said the House’s defense of DOMA is in the nation’s “economic interest.” Its reasoning?
“America spends $112 billion a year just from divorce and out-of-wedlock births” and “the U.S. budget would become a free-for-all for domestic partner benefits and other perks that the law currently prevents.”
“According to experts,” said FRC, “the price tag—just for same-sex paratner benefits—is roughly $670 million over the next ten years. Add that to the cost of family breakdown, and suddenly the legal fees don’t seem that much.”
The House signed the contract with King & Spalding on April 14. Clement and Bucholtz and a third attorney, Nicholas Nelson, signed a brief April 18 to the U.S. District Court for Southern New York in Windsor v. U.S., one of the lawsuits challenging DOMA in the 2nd Circuit. The brief asks that the House be allowed to participate in the lawsuit as a defendant.