Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli dropped the state's business with King & Spalding after the Atlanta-based law firm dropped the U.S. House of Representatives' case defending the Defense of Marriage Act earlier this week.
Cuccinelli told the firm in a biting letter Wednesday that he did not object to working with law firms who defend objectionable people or causes, like the firm's work defending terrorist suspects. But he said the firm's unprofessional behavior-taking the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) case and then dropping it after coming under pressure from gay rights groups-was the cause for his decision to terminate its appointment as special counsel to the attorney general.
"[I]t is crucial for us to be able to trust and rely on the fact that our outside counsel will not desert Virginia due to pressure by an outside group or groups," he wrote. "Virginia seeks firms of commitment, courage, strength, and toughness, and unfortunately what the world has learned of King & Spalding is that your firm utterly lacks those qualities." Cuccinelli went on to call the firm's decision to drop the DOMA case an "obsequious act of weakness."
"For future reference, your firm is not welcome to reapply for special counsel status at any time as long as I am the attorney general of Virginia," he concluded. The Washington Examiner first reported Cuccinelli's decision.
King & Spalding has not yet responded to the letter. The attorney general had worked with the firm since 2009, contracting out legal work, but Cuccinelli said he could not leave cases, like one involving the University of Virginia Medical Center, "in the hands of a law firm of such weakness."
As a result of the decision to drop the DOMA case, the firm also lost one of its prominent partners, Paul Clement, the solicitor general under President George W. Bush. Clement resigned to continue as counsel on the DOMA case as part of a smaller law firm in Washington.
DOMA, which Congress passed in 1996 and President Bill Clinton signed into law, defines marriage as between one man and one woman, and bars federal benefits for same-sex couples. The law faces a number of court challenges. Previously the Justice Department had defended it as established law, despite President Obama's personal opposition, but in February the president and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that they no longer deemed the law constitutional and the Justice Department would no longer defend it in court. A number of lawyers said the administration's defense of the law was half-hearted to begin with.
Congress, which passed the law, is likely the only other entity that has standing in court to defend the law, so the House convened a rare legal advisory group in March that contracted with King & Spalding to defend the statute. House Democratic leaders objected to the decision. Once the firm agreed to take the case in April, gay rights groups began to exert pressure. Human Rights Campaign and Georgia Equality had planned a protest Tuesday morning outside King & Spalding's Atlanta offices, and the two groups planned to buy ads attacking the firm. Several gay rights legal groups publicly condemned the firm before it withdrew from the case.