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Anti-DOMA Law Firm Loses Two Clients

Publication Date: 
May 04, 2011
The Washington Times
Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein of the Washington Times used an excerpt written by professor Deborah L. Rhode in the National Law Journal on why "moral calculus is different" in civil cases in the below article.

More than a week after a top Atlanta law firm dropped the contract to defend the federal marriage statute under pressure from gay groups, the legal and public relations fallout shows no signs of easing.

In addition to losing one of its top lawyers in protest, King & Spalding has lost at least two high-profile clients, while its decision to cancel its contract with the House of Representatives to defend the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has sparked a lively debate in the nation's law schools and on legal blogs.

Stanford Law School professor Deborah L. Rhode wrote this week in the National Law Journal that the law firm was "right to withdraw" from the case because of its concerns, but others, including U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., have sharply criticized the move.


In her article in the National Law Journal, Ms. Rhode wrote that while criminals need "vigorous advocacy," the "moral calculus is different" in civil cases such as the DOMA litigation.

"Except in rare circumstances, civil claimants have no right to counsel," she said. "The notion that lawyers should check their conscience at the door" has led to public policy fiascos in such areas as finance and public health, she added.

Gay rights groups were not using "McCarthyite" tactics in pressuring King & Spalding to withdraw, she added. "They were exercising their own rights to expression" in the service of their allies, which is "precisely" the "kind of pressure" that other groups have used to end discrimination.