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Firm hired to defend DOMA in court calls it quits

From NBC's Shawna Thomas and Carrie Dann
The law firm hired by the House of Representatives to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court has decided it will drop its defense of the federal statute, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

The firm, King and Spalding, had faced protests from gay rights groups after its contract with the House Administration Committee and General Counsel - along with its attached price tag of up to $500,000 -- was reported. The Human Rights Campaign announced a national campaign last week to urge the group to withdraw from the agreement.

The firm had agreed to work on behalf of the GOP-led House after the Obama administration announced earlier this year that the Department of Justice would no longer defend the law, which it says is unconstitutional.

Paul Clement, a former Solicitor General under President George W. Bush and the lead lawyer on the legal team hired to defend DOMA in court, has also resigned from King and Spalding.

In his resignation letter, Clement wrote that his decision was a result of his "firmly-held belief that a representation should not be abandoned because the client's legal position is extremely unpopular in certain quarters."

Clement has joined a new firm, Bancroft PLLC.

House Speaker John Boehner’s office clarified that Clement and his new firm will still defend DOMA for the House of Representatives. 

Boehner’s spokesman said today, “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.”

The firm's chairman, Robert Hayes, Jr released the following statement earlier Monday:

"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."

In his resignation letter, Clement argued, "if there were problems with the firm's vetting process, we should fix the vetting process, not drop the representation."

King and Spalding had just filed a motion to intervene as a defendant on behalf of the House of Representatives on Monday, April 18th.

In a statement, a spokesman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi praised the firm's decision to drop its defense of the law.

"Leader Pelosi shares Mr. Hays' apparent concerns with the lack of transparency and accountability in the way this contract was signed. She also vigorously opposes using half a million taxpayer dollars or any taxpayer resources to defend discrimination, at a time when Republicans in Congress are cutting critical initiatives like education and infrastructure. It is now more critical than ever that Speaker Boehner fully account for his decision to sign this half million dollar contract to defend this indefensible statue."

*** UPDATE *** In a statement, House Adminstration Committee Chairman Dan Lungren, R-Calif., praised Clement and called King and Spalding's decision to withdraw from its defense of DOMA "an insult to the legal profession."

"I want to express my gratitude to former Solicitor General Clement. I admire his unwavering commitment to his clients and his dedication to uphold the law - qualities that appear to be inconsequential at King and Spalding where politics and profit now appear to come first.

"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."