Former U.S. solicitor general Paul Clement is resigning from King & Spalding in protest after the law firm’s request today to withdraw from lawsuits about the Defense of Marriage Act.
Clement says he’ll continue working on the same-sex marriage litigation on behalf of U.S. House Republicans from Bancroft, a small Washington litigation firm. And in a two-page letter to King & Spalding’s chairman, Robert Hays Jr., Clement pointedly disagreed with King & Spalding’s handling of the matter.
The letter says a law firm should not abandon a representation “because the client’s legal position is extremely unpopular in certain quarters.”
“Defending unpopular positions is what lawyers do,” Clement writes. “The adversary system of justice depends on it, especially in cases where the passions run high. Efforts to delegitimize any representation for one side of a legal controversy are a profound threat to the rule of law.”
The letter also takes issue with the idea that King & Spalding did not thoroughly vet the contract that Clement signed with the House General Counsel’s Office this month, an idea that Hays mentioned in a statement today. “I would have never undertaken this matter unless I believed I had the full backing of the firm,” Clement writes, adding that, “If there were problems with the firm’s vetting process, we should fix the vetting process, not drop the representation.”
Clement rejoined King & Spalding in 2008 in a much-watched move reportedly worth $5 million a year. He had been head of the firm’s appellate practice until he became deputy solicitor general in 2001. He became solicitor general in 2005.
In his resignation letter, Clement writes that he has “immense fondness” for his colleagues and for King & Spalding, but that “my loyalty to the client and respect for the profession must come first.” He ends with a quote from former U.S. attorney general Griffin Bell, a longtime King & Spalding partner, warning that lawyers have a duty to finish a representation after it begins.
Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said in an e-mailed statement that Clement “has demonstrated legal integrity.” Buck added, “This move will ensure the constitutionality of this law is appropriately determined by the courts, rather than by the president unilaterally.”
At Bancroft, Clement will be a partner and he’ll link up with another veteran of the Justice Department from George W. Bush’s presidency: Viet Dinh, a former assistant attorney general. H. Christopher Bartolomucci, an associate White House counsel under Bush, is also a partner.
In a news release from Bancroft, Clement said his new firm “offers its clients premier talent, without all the baggage of a mega firm. We are shaking up the D.C. legal establishment.”
Dinh, in the same news release, said Clement “is a perfect fit with Bancroft, where we are building the next great law firm.”
Click here (PDF) for a copy of Clement’s letter.
Updated at 12:17 p.m. National Law Journal photo by Diego M. Radzinschi.