ATLANTA — A prominent law firm hired by Republican lawmakers to defend the federal ban on gay marriage said Monday it was withdrawing from the case amid criticism by advocacy groups, prompting the partner leading the work to quit his job there.
King & Spalding chairman Robert Hays Jr. said in a statement that he decided to withdraw the Atlanta firm from work representing the Defense of Marriage Act after determining the decision to take the case wasn't vetted properly.
The decision was quickly followed by the resignation of Paul Clement, a lawyer with the firm who was retained by House Republican leaders after President Barack Obama's administration directed the Justice Department to stop defending the law in court.
Clement, a former U.S. solicitor general, said his personal views on the law are irrelevant. But he argued that a law firm shouldn't abandon a client in the face of criticism, saying that "defending unpopular positions is what lawyers do."
"Much has been said about being on the wrong side of history. But being on the right or wrong side of history on the merits is a question for the clients," said Clement, who is based in Washington. "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."
Clement said in the letter that he is moving to the firm Bancroft PLLC and will keep working on the case for House leaders.
The law firm's decision to drop the case came a day before advocacy groups planned a rally at the firm's Atlanta headquarters. Those groups said they were particularly stung that the firm, known for supporting gay rights and recruiting gay employees, was involved in defending the ban.