BREAKING: ‘King & Spalding’ Law Firm Backing Out of DOMA Case



Amanda Terkel at the HuffPost broke the news that King & Spalding, the law firm hired to defend DOMA, is backing out of the case, having determined the "process used for vetting this engagement was inadequate."

Clement Ben Smith at Politico reports:

King and Spalding Chairman Robert D. Hays, Jr., whose partner Paul Clement was to lead the defense, said in a statement through a spokesman, Les Zuke:

Today the firm filed a motion to withdraw from its engagement to represent the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives on the constitutional issues regarding Section III of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. Last week we worked diligently through the process required for withdrawal.

In reviewing this assignment further, I determined that the process used for vetting this engagement was inadequate. Ultimately I am responsible for any mistakes that occurred and apologize for the challenges this may have created.

Clement was former Solicitor General under George W. Bush.

The Human Rights Campaign, Georgia Equality, and other activist groups had planned a protest for this evening at the law firm's Atlanta offices.

King & Spalding's involvement was seen as hypocritical because of the firm's high rating on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index and a statement on its website touting pride in its pro-LGBT policies. The cost to American taxpayers was also much-discussed, after having been revealed as $500,000, possibly more.

Background on King & Spalding's involvement
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]

HRC's Joe Solmonese released the following statement:

"King & Spalding has rightly chosen to put principle above politics in dropping its involvement in the defense of this discriminatory and patently unconstitutional law. We are pleased to see the firm has decided to stand on the right side of history and remain true to its core values. Speaker Boehner is likely to pursue continued defense of this odious law. However, law firms that value LGBT equality should remain committed to those values."

Equality Matters President Richard Socarides released a statement in response to Spalding & King's decision:

"We commend the partners of King & Spalding for rightly recognizing that their participation in furthering discrimination against gay Americans was unacceptable. All Americans deserve access to an attorney, but attorneys need to be held accountable for the clients they voluntarily decide to represent. Furthermore, Speaker Boehner has an army of in-house legal talent at the House of Representatives who could ably represent his position in court. If he is serious about cutting the deficit he needs to look to his in-house counsel to represent him in these proceedings, instead of spending taxpayer dollars for a service already provided to his office."

UPDATE: Clement has resigned from his firm and joined Bancroft PLLC.

NOM's Brian Brown reacts:

Speaking Monday with The Advocate, National Organization for Marriage president Brian Brown, who last week praised Clement as a "legal eagle in this case who actually wants to win in court," criticized the firm's decision and said it was the result, he claims, of "harassing and punishing and intimidating to stop a debate."

"HRC did what it enjoys doing, which is to launch a campaign of cultural intimidation. We see this time and time again," Brown said.

House Speaker John Boehner's spokesman has responded to the announcement:

The Speaker is disappointed in the firm’s decision and its careless disregard for its responsibilities to the House in this constitutional matter. At the same time, Mr. Clement has demonstrated legal integrity, and we are grateful for his decision to continue representing the House. This move will ensure the constitutionality of this law is appropriately determined by the courts, rather than by the President unilaterally.


  1. Darren says

    YEAH BABY!!!!! I was going to be joining the protest after work.. :) Woo-Hoo!!!

    They should get Fred Phelps to defend it.. LOL!

  2. Brad says

    “process used for vetting this engagement was inadequate.”

    In other words, bigotry isn’t good business. This should send law firms everywhere a big message. They’ll probably find some ultra-Christianist, right-wing law firm in the bible belt or in the south that will probably pick up the case.

  3. exsidleynycadmin says

    And that’s how you get it done! You simply will not get away with what they were trying to get away with in this day and age. This would have destroyed their firm’s reputation for years to come just for taking the case and would have branded them as a force for evil forever if they had somehow won. We will not accept law firms working against human rights and they have obviously heard us loud and clear.

    To those who said our protests wouldn’t matter, I am very happy to say I TOLD YOU SO.

  4. Bart says

    @Brad — I was wondering what that phase was code for. I appreciate you giving it a real meaning.

    This is huge. And quite telling. I believe Brad is also right in that they will now have to rely on a sub-standard legal team that has some pro-Christian/anti-gay bias and doesn’t care if it affects their business or reputation.

    I wonder how Boehner took the news they were saying, “thanks but no thanks.” I also wonder what they charged for saying no thanks. And what this will add to the reported $500,000 it will cost to defend DOMA in court by the House. Losing legal rep and having to hire another will certainly cost money. Maybe they should check to see who the legal team is for Fox News. Maybe the Georgia Attorney General isn’t busy. There are plenty of bigots and hateful idiots out there that can’t see that this country’s foundation is inclusive and not exclusive. More than plenty.

  5. gaylib says

    I wonder how Boehner took the news they were saying, “thanks but no thanks.”

    I’m guessing that he started sobbing like a baby.

  6. Russell says

    Fred is not the lawyer in the Phelps family, it’s his daughter Slagette. Or whatever her first name is. And Rick Santorum can assist her. Legal dynamite, those two.

  7. jack says

    hmm, my first comment seems to have disappeared. are comments being monitored or was it just an internet glitch i wonder?

    my immediate reaction was “HOLY SH*T” which, while not eloquent, will be my recurring thought throughout the day.

    i disagree with “i told you so” though. i think it far more likely that partners and functionaries made it clear that the firm’s involvement with this case would undoubtedly precipitate internecine disturbances at all levels of staffing. the law of unintended consequences strikes again.

  8. Vann says

    It will be really awesome if these tactics work on other firms approached by the House Republicans with this case, so that the only ones who will take it are lawyers working at places like Liberty Counsel and the Alliance Defense Fund. That would make my day. We’ll see though.

  9. Laurie says

    Sadly, Fred is the original lawyer in the Phelps family. He used to be a renowned civil rights attorney. Many, many years ago.

  10. Daya says

    Should the planned protest be turned into a THANK YOU gathering (don’t want to call it a party…) for King and Spalding.
    I mean they did decide that the big ding to their rep was not worth 1/2 a million.

  11. Justin L Werner says

    “process used for vetting this engagement was inadequate.”

    Lawyer-ese for “We pooed the screwch when we decided to take this one. In the long haul it’s going to cost us most of our clients to go with this, even with the bucket of cash Congress was willing to throw our way.”

  12. Question says

    @Dayla: This. King & Spalding changed for the better and the “protest” should reflect that. They made a mistake, they corrected it and are moving on. The Atlanta organizers should keep the plans moving, but in a congratulatory manner.

  13. mcNnyc says

    I Think Congratulations on all fronts are deserved and those who either called offices or emailed King and Spaulding might want to send a message of appreciation for standing up for civil rights.

    Oh and…maybe HRC might give them an extra point on their rating and won’t get any snark.

  14. J says

    Apparently Clement will be continuing the representation for Bancroft PLLC, a firm that specializes in torture and domestic spying defense cases.

    This ain’t over. Not by a long shot.

  15. exsidleynycstaffer says

    Have to disagree with the disagreement of my “I told you so”. When Sidley did this in the 90s, they could not have cared less about the effect on the staff, even their rare openly gay partners. I don’t believe for a second that K&S couldn’t have rationalized away any internal problems if they were convinced this wouldn’t have been a public relations disaster. If the protests had only been internal, they absolutely would not have withdrawn.

  16. says

    GEE, Mr. President, it only took that law firm a few days to “evolve.” It took you over TWO YEARS to decide not to defend DOMA in court, but you’re STILL enforcing it, and STILL think God wants only Hets like you to be able to marry.

  17. curtis says

    WOW astounding that just raised my view of lawyers several degrees, A lawfirm that actually has integrity.

  18. Rich says

    “process used for vetting this engagement was inadequate.”

    Keep in mind that any partner at a big firm can generally open a new matter without management approval so long as there are no conflicts. Having said that, there is no way that the firm would have agreed to the gag order on gay rights advocacy without approval from the top eschelons of the firm. So, this is clearly a complete turnaround on the part of firm management. Bravo.

  19. cREATIVE1 says





  20. BobN says

    If a book ever gets written about this, I bet it will reveal that this whole drama was planned out well ahead of time.

  21. just_a_guy says

    I’m proud of the K&S firm leadership’s decision to withdraw on this one. And even a little proud for the legal profession right now. Thanks all.

    Oh yeah, I DO think this is also a win for free speech. Not violation of confidentiality or professsionalism rules or anything like that. But for free speech, for all of us also being real PEOPLE.

    @BobN: Leave it to you for the interesting theories. Hmmmm, maybe, but gosh, are they THAT smart? I’m not convinced…but it’s technically possible I guess, ha. I mean they manage to come out looking good and with publicity to boot. But it’s kinda cynical to imagine that seasoned lawyers are THAT cold, don’t u think?

  22. tinkerbell says

    Clement looks remarkably like one of the Nazi German circle of leaders. I’m not sure which one, but he could be the double for one. Was it Himmler???