While King & Spalding did not specify reasons yesterday for dropping the DOMA defense aside from “inadequate vetting,” there was plenty that could have influenced the decision. K&S openly celebrates its LGBT employees, but Paul Clement’s contract with the House of Representatives did not include discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Further, the contract imposed a “gag rule,” meaning no K&S employee could have spoken out against the Defense of Marriage Act. It’s also likely that some of K&S’s clients, including Coca Cola, spoke out against the contract, and as Equality Matters’ Richard Socarides put it, “This kind of thing could have stuck to them for decades. People no longer want to be associated with this kind of discrimination.”
Regardless of the exact reasons, immediately following the decision and Clement’s resignation from the firm, conservatives and equality opponents quickly conspired to attack King & Spalding while celebrating Clement as a hero. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) launched the first blow, saying he was “disappointed in the firm’s…careless disregard for its responsibilities.” Chairman Dan Lungren (R-CA) issued an even harsher rebuke:
King and Spalding’s cut and run approach is inexcusable and an insult to the legal profession. Less than one week after the contract was approved engaging the firm, they buckled under political pressure and bailed with little regard for their ethical and legal obligations. Fortunately, Clement does not share the same principles. I’m confident that with him at the helm, we will fight to ensure the courts – not the President – determine DOMA’s constitutionality.
Groups who advocate against marriage equality also joined the smear campaign. The National Organization for Marriage called the decision “appalling” and has promised an investigation into K&S’s “shocking lack of professional ethics.” Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council decried K&S as advocates for a “cabal that want to undermine policy and society” through “smear and silence tactics.” Mat Staver of the Liberty Counsel and Liberty University School of Law called the decision “absolutely astounding” and “a politically bad move.” Even Clement’s new firm, Bancroft P.L.L.C., started a Twitter account yesterday just to celebrate Clement’s arrival and his “commitment to the interests of his clients.”
It seems clear that opponents of marriage equality have been vilifying King & Spalding to distract from the true narrative of the House’s DOMA Defense: Boehner is spending at least $500,000 of taxpayer money on a $5 million lawyer for the sole purpose of defending discrimination against gays and lesbians.