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Clement Quits King & Spalding Over Marriage Act Decision

Paul D. Clement, former top litigator for the Bush administration, resigned as head of Atlanta-based King & Spalding LLP’s national appellate practice after the firm withdrew as counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives in arguing for the Defense of Marriage Act.

The firm shouldn’t abandon its representation simply because a client’s legal position is unpopular, Clement said today in a letter to firm Chairman Robert D. Hays announcing his decision to join Washington-based Bancroft PLLC.

“Defending unpopular positions is what lawyers do,” Clement said. “The adversary system of justice depends on it, especially in cases where the passions run high. When it comes to the lawyers, the surest way to be on the wrong side of history is to abandon a client in the face of hostile criticism.”

House Speaker John Boehner said last month that Republicans would defend the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act after the Obama administration said it won’t defend the constitutionality of the law. The act bars same-sex married couples from collecting federal benefits when eligibility is determined by marital status.

Democrats seeking to repeal the federal ban said King & Spalding’s withdrawal is another blow to Republican efforts to defend DOMA.

‘Patently Wrong’

“Their withdrawal confirms what is increasingly obvious: it is patently wrong to defend this harmful law,” Representatives Jerrold Nadler of New York, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Jared Polis of Colorado, and John Conyers of Michigan, who are sponsoring the House bill, said in a joint e-mailed statement.

The move to hire King & Spalding sparked backlash from the gay and lesbian community and criticism from House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who called the Republicans’ decision a “distraction.”

Hays said in a statement today that the firm’s vetting process for the case was “inadequate.”

“Ultimately I am responsible for any mistakes that occurred and apologize for the challenges this may have created,” Hays said in the statement.

Clement, who was to serve as lead attorney for King & Spalding, said he wouldn’t have undertaken the matter unless he believed he had the firm’s full backing.

‘Honorable Course’

“But having undertaken the representation, I believe there is no honorable course for me but to complete it,” Clement said in his letter to Hays. “If there were problems with the firm’s vetting process, we should fix the vetting process, not drop the representation.”

Clement, a native of Cedarburg, Wisconsin, served as the U.S. solicitor general, arguing the government’s side in cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, from June 2005 to June 2008, during the presidency of George W. Bush. He rejoined King & Spalding in November 2008.

“We’re sorry to see Paul Clement leave. He’s been a good partner and we wish him the best,” Les Zuke, a spokesman for the firm, said today in an e-mail.

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