Earlier this week, we learned that the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) put pressure on clients of the law firm King & Spalding to get it “to end its representation of the “Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives on the constitutional issues regarding Section III of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.” After the law firm caved to pressure from this left-wing outfit, it has earned the opprobrium not just of conservative pundits and jurists, but also from left-of-center commentators, even from the editorial board of the New York Times!
Calling “the pummeling” that the law firm has experienced “entirely deserved”, Ruth Marcus dubs HRC, “the bigger culprit” as it “orchestrated the ugly pressure tactics against King & Spalding“:
But strong-arming the lawyer to drop or avoid the unpopular client is not an acceptable tactic. This is not, or shouldn’t be, a left-right debate. It is true whether the lawyer is defending murderers on death row, Guantanamo detainees or a federal law — a law, it must be pointed out, that was passed by overwhelming congressional majorities and signed by a Democratic president. The Human Rights Campaign and its allies ought to remember: Not so long ago, firms were squeamish about taking on gay clients or causes.
Exactly. Read the whole thing. “King & Spalding had no ethical or moral obligation to take the case,” the editors of the New York Times write, “but in having done so, it was obliged to stay with its clients, to resist political pressure from the left that it feared would hurt its business.” (Via Jennifer Rubin.)
John Hinderaker reports that “King & Spalding is starting to experience blowback: the Attorney General of Virginia has fired the firm from work it has been doing for the state since 2009. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli sent King & Spalding a blistering letter which apparently was copied to the Washington Examiner:”
King & Spalding’s willingness to drop a client, the U.S. House of Representatives, in connection with the lawsuit challenging the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was such an obsequious act of weakness that I feel compelled to end your legal association with Virginia so that there is no chance that one of my legal clients will be put in the embarrassing and difficult situation like the client you walked away from, the House of Representatives.
It seems that HRC counted on getting favorable publicity from its successful effort to strong arm the law firm, and wasn’t prepared for the backlash. They simply ignored the larger principle at stake, a basic principle of American jurisprudence that justice, as the Times editors put it, “is best served when everyone whose case is being decided by a court is represented by able counsel.” In the wake of this reaction to King & Spalding’s pusillanimous posturing, the leaders of HRC will consider the hypothetical I offered a few days ago. They have now provided a standard for social conservatives to put pressure on law firms representing gay organizations, including their own.
SOMEWHAT RELATED: When doing a google search for HRC’s Thuggist Tactics” to track down my own post, I chanced upon this comment to Orin Kerr’s post on the King & Spalding decision:
If HRC is as right as they claim, it should not be afraid to let someone make an argument on the other side; the strength of their position will win out. Instead of quiet confidence, we see frantic boorishness. This tactic does not just potentially hurt the cause of gay marriage; it does injury to the broader political and personal intercourse and sets a dangerous precedent that will bite everyone in the ass in the long run.
Read the whole thing.