The top in-house lawyer for the U.S. House of Representatives has been given the task of defending the federal Defense of Marriage Act, filling a vacuum left by the Justice Department's departure from ongoing cases.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced the move late today and said it “will ensure that this law’s constitutionality is decided by the courts, rather than by the President unilaterally.”
The decision followed debate within a five-member group known as the House’s Bipartisan Leadership Advisory Group. The group directs the House’s legal strategies, including whether the House as an institution should initiate litigation, and Republicans hold a 3-2 majority.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the Democratic leader and a member of the group, said she voted against the move because she considers the Defense of Marriage Act to be discriminatory. She also said the legal defense would “sap hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, if not more, during a time of limited fiscal resources.”
There has been partisan disagreement over the House’s legal strategy before. In 2008, when Pelosi was speaker, House Democrats took the George W. Bush White House to court and won in an attempt to enforce committee subpoenas. House Republicans opposed the move.
House General Counsel Kerry Kircher assumed his position in January, after his predecessor, Irvin Nathan, left to become the D.C. attorney general, but he’s worked in the office since 1995.
Asked whether the relatively small legal shop would need to hire outside counsel, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said the counsel’s office would make that decision. Kircher did not immediately respond to a request for comment.