When Lawyers Aren't Allowed to Defend Unpopular Positions

One of my favorite writers, Carl Cannon, late of National Journal and now the chief of RealClearPolitics's expanding Washington bureau, has written a closely-reasoned, carefully-argued piece in defense of the principle that unpopular ideas and people deserve legal representation. The piece traces the travails of  Paul Clement, the former Solicitor General, whose law firm rejected his decision to argue in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, forcing Clement to quit in protest. Read the whole thing; it's great journalism. One brief excerpt:

The attempt at intimidation was reminiscent of the misguided Republicans who in 2010 questioned the allegiances of current Justice Department lawyers who previously represented Guantanamo detainees while in private practice -- as no less a lawyer than the attorney general himself noted this week.

"The people who criticized our people here at the Justice Department were wrong then, as are people who criticized Paul Clement," Eric Holder told reporters. "Paul Clement is a great lawyer. He has done a lot of really great things for this nation. In taking on representing Congress in connection with DOMA, I think he was doing that which lawyers do when we are at our best. . . . Those who were critical of him for taking that representation -- that criticism is very misplaced."

There was, however, one crucial distinction between the bullying campaign against the liberal lawyers who'd represented detainees and the attempts by gay rights activists to frighten King & Spalding: The intimidation campaign against King & Spalding worked. The firm quickly caved in to pressure, with King & Spalding managing partner Robert D. Hays mumbling only something vaguely coherent about the firm's "vetting process." In his pointed letter of resignation, Clement replied that if there were problems with the vetting, the firm should fix its process, not ditch their client.


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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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