When Lawyers Aren't Allowed to Defend Unpopular Positions

By Jeffrey Goldberg

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.


This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/05/when-lawyers-arent-allowed-to-defend-unpopular-positions/238315/