HRC Confirms it Pressured King & Spalding’s Clients on DOMA Issue


Greg Sargent at The Plum Line talks to HRC about claims by conservative bloggers that "the left engaged in an 'unprincipled campaign' of intimidation" after King & Spalding decided to take on the DOMA defense.

Sainz HRC's Fred Sainz (pictured) unapologetically confirms the group did pressure the firm's clients.

Good for them:

Sainz said his group did not ask any of the firm’s clients to drop the firm in retaliation for taking the case, as is being assumed by conservatives who are alleging an untoward pressure campaign. Rather, he said, his group informed the firm’s clients that taking the case was out of sync with King and Spalding’s commitment to diversity, which it proudly advertises on its Web site.

“King and Spalding’s clients are listed on its web site, so we did what you would expect us to do,” Sainz told me. “We are an advocacy firm that is dedicated to improving the lives of gays and lesbians. It is incumbent on us to launch a full-throated educational campaign so firsm know that these kinds of engagements will reflect on the way your clients and lawschool recruits think of your firm.”

“We did all of this, and we’re proud to have done it,” added Sainz, who declined to name which King and Spalding clients his group contacted.

UPDATE: Another report says Coca-Cola was the client to get King & Spalding off the case.

Sources with knowledge of the backlash confirm that one of King & Spalding's top clients, Coca Cola, also based in Atlanta, directly intervened to press the firm to extricate itself from the case.

A Coca Cola spokesman declined to comment on or off the record for this story, but pointed TPM to the company's long public history of support for equality and diversity.

Gay rights group: You’re damn right we pressured law firm on DOMA [plum line]

Background on King & Spalding's involvement
Paul Clement Resigns from King & Spalding [tr]
King & Spalding Firm Backing Out of DOMA Case [tr]
Protests Planned for DOMA-Defending Law Firm [tr]
King & Spalding Firm to Face Backlash Over Defending DOMA [tr]
DOMA Firm's Gag Order Revealed [tr]
DOMA Defense to Cost American Taxpayers $500K, Maybe More [tr]
House Files Motion to Intervene in DOMA Lawsuit [tr]
Former Bush Solicitor General Paul Clement to Lead DOMA Defense [tr]
DOMA-Defending Attorney Paul Clement's Firm is Proud of its Pro-LGBT Policies [tr]


  1. says

    I don’t see how this is intimidation at all! If a firm wants to back discrimination, then they should be prepared for consequences. It would have been a different story if HRC sent the firm threatening letters, or bullied their clients, but from what I can tell so far, it just sounds like they are informing K&S’s clients of what is happening. Nothing wrong there.

    I do love how K&S, along with NOM, along with all the Prop. 8 backers, are all so quick to play the victim card once the tables turn against them. If you’re gonna do something, do it all the way. Don’t hide behind anonymity and then balk when that anonymity is stripped away. Be proud of what you did, and if you’re not, then maybe you should reconsider the act before doing it in the first place.

  2. Rob says

    Austin is right on the message. As usual, when the haters are doing it, it’s OK. But when we stand up for our rights by informing (as opposed to threatening) others of what the haters are doing, we are accused of mounting an “untoward pressure campaign” (as if that’s a bad thing). If the haters want to understand what a negative pressure campaign REALLY is, then Google the term “gay marriage” along with, say, “Mormon Church” or “Catholic Church” or “NOM”. Now those are pressure campaigns full of threatening lies, insinuation and misdirection. Kudos to HRC for some backdone in this effort with K&S. Can I get an Amen?

  3. james says

    King and Spalding has long been a prominent law firm in the Atlanta area, competently working with primarily corporate clients. Influential in the wider community, but never a splashy, high-profile firm. This case had the potential of damaging its reputation. It certainly did not need the $500,000 potential fee. Coca-Cola probably does multiples of that amount in business with them every year.

    Corporate clients want their law firms to be competent, but without too much public scrutiny. Client confidentiality is, after all, essential to the practice of law.

    I also imagine the “gag order” part of the representation agreement, that applied to all K&S employees, caused no small amount of trouble for the firm’s leadership.

  4. BABH says

    Disgraceful. HRC does nothing for years, then when it finally acts, it does this.

    Pressuring lawyers who take on unpopular clients was wrong when the Republicans did it to defense counsel for Guantanamo detainees, and it’s wrong here, too. The bad guys aren’t the law firm. The bad guys are the House Republicans who hired them.

    [And no, I am not a lawyer. I’m just a fan of the rule of law.]

  5. james says

    @BABH, the rule of law has not been compromised here. Paul Clement will still defend DOMA, albeit with another law firm, Bancroft.

    I hope his defense is vigorous so when DOMA is ruled unconstitutional by the court, no one will be able to say it is because the defense side didn’t have a good lawyer.

  6. jpeckjr says

    Interesting tidbit from the K&S website, “People” tab. George C. Crawford is the Sr Govt Relations Advisor in their DC office. He was Nancy Pelosi’s Chief of Staff before joining King and Spalding. Must have been some interesting conversations in that office over the last few days!

  7. ohplease says

    If only you were a fan of logic and common sense, too.

    An un-Constitutional law isn’t a “client”. Injustice doesn’t have a right to be defended. And pointing out hypocrisy to a hypocrite isn’t “pressuring”.

    Nice histrionics, though.

  8. BABH says

    James: Yes, it has. Careful lawyers (i.e., the good ones) are now on notice that they have to consider the political effect on their own practice of the clients they serve. The losers are unpopular litigants – the ones who most need vigorous representation in court, since they get skewered by public opinion.

    HRC just coursened our society another notch.

  9. BABH says

    OHPLEASE: Congress is the client. There is a Congressional statute of dubious constitutionality (you and I think it’s unconstitutional, but it quite rightly gets the presumption of constitutionality in court). It shouldn’t be controversial to be a politically neutral lawyer employed by Congress to defend its prerogatives.

  10. walter says

    can’t understand why anyone would be upset about hrc pressuring the law firm into backing out of the case. this is the same tactic nom, the catholic league and focus on the family have been using for years. time the tables were turned on them. about time

  11. BobN says

    For the first time, HRC and our opponents are on the same page: giving HRC credit it doesn’t deserve.

    The idea that “pressure” from HRC resulted in this fiasco is absurd.

  12. BABH says

    Walter: NOM, FRC and the Catholic League are evil organizations. They tell vicious lies under oath. Should we do that too? Or should we try to avoid being evil in pursuit of the good?

  13. BABH says

    Let me put it another way:
    We have gained nothing (Clement will still argue the case), but we have lost some of our moral authority. How is this in any way a victory?

  14. BABH says

    Matthew: I guess what’s wrong is that you *should* like the practice of a law firm representing their clients, even (especially?) their odious clients. It’s sort of what they’re there for.

  15. Steve says

    An “unprincipled campaign”? Are you f**king kidding me?

    We’re just holding K&S accountable for their choice of clients. If they truly believe in human rights, their client choice will reflect that.

  16. walter says

    they might have the right to defend the scum but i maintain the right to let them know that their actions have consequences and i reservr the right to protest their defense of these clients.

  17. james says

    @babh 3:01. (Sarcasm alert) Oh my goodness! You’re right. Because this is the first time in the entire history of the practice of law throughout the world that a law firm has not considered the political effect on their own practice of taking on a high-profile, potentially controversial case! It’s never happened before! Wow. I wonder how all those lawyers throughout history missed that possibility? (Close sarcasm.)

    I, for one, think King and Spalding began questioning the wisdom of taking on this case the moment Paul Clement told the firm’s leadership he had agreed to do it. Once the “gag order” provision became public, I think the chairman and managing partners began looking for a way out. K&S lawyers are some of the best in the profession. They didn’t have to get a phone call from any of their clients, or a press conference from HRC to see they had a problem.

  18. By Any Means Necessary says

    @BABH: Morals are a social construct, and they only work when all members in a community agree on common values that must be respected. However, if a majority decide that the individual liberties of a minority aren’t worth protecting, the minority has no obligation to respect the shared values of the majority.

    We aren’t equal members of American society, and therefore it is righteous for us to disregard the morals of our oppressors to achieve equality. Playing by our opponents’ rules is the reason why HRC rarely accomplishes anything, and the converse statement is why civil rights riots are successful in effecting change.

  19. wimsy says

    If my lawyer defended DOMA, I’d want to know about it, and I’d find another lawyer.

    I’m the client; it’s my decision.

    All this swooning about undermining the rule of law is utter nonsense.

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