Monday, May 2, 2011

NRA inserts itself in DOMA controversy.

One would expect the National Rifle Association to defend the rights of gun owners and not really concern itself with the rights of others. They are supposed to be a one-issue lobbying group. So, I don’t get worried when they refuse to defend the First Amendment and instead concentrate on the Second Amendment. I’m the sort of guy who likes all of the Bill of Rights, not just selective parts of it. If anything the Bill of Rights didn’t go far enough for me.

But I would not expect the NRA to actively insert itself in campaigns to deny other people their rights. But that is precisely what the NRA has done. That, in my opinions, moves them into a whole different category.

First, some background regarding the situation with the law firm King & Spalding. Unfortunately a lot of conservatives have actively been lying about the facts to twist the case into something far different than what it really is.

Republican leaders in the House of Representatives recently hired King & Spalding. They wanted the firm to defend the odious Defense of Marriage Act, a measure that created a federal definition of marriage for the first time in history. Previously marriage was regulated as the state level. Republicans, in the name of states’ rights, moved the definition to the federal level so that it trumps state definitions on all federal matters.

A problem arose when the contract the Republicans insisted the firm sign was investigated in detail. (Note: this is the topic of my column at Huffington Post this week, so you can read it for more information.) The Republicans inserted a gag rule that stripped all employees of King & Spalding of their First Amendment rights in regards to DOMA, this include employees anywhere in the world, including those who were not working on the defense of the indefensible. As might be expected some employees were threatening to resign. And to make it worse, such a clause is illegal in numerous states where the firm had offices.

Worse yet, the restriction was so broadly worded that the firm may have had to drop clients they had worked with for years. The clause said that no employee of the firm could engage in “lobbying or advocacy” regarding “any legislation” that would change or repeal DOMA. But the firm had a long-standing relationship with the Lambda Legal Defense Fund that actively worked to promote equality of rights for the LGBT community. The Republican “gag order” basically would have forced King & Spalding to drop this client in order to placate the control-freaks in the Republican Party.

King & Spalding thus ended up in the bizarre position of either having to drop a long-standing client for the GOP anti-rights lawsuit, or drop the Republicans. They could NOT keep both because the Republicans had insisted on a contract that forbids keeping both. King & Spalding did the right thing but telling the Republican that they could not represent them. This was right on several levels. First, a law firm ought to continue its relationship with an existing client and not dump them because a new client insists on it. Second, the Republicans are simply wrong. They are promoting hatred for political gain, or perceived political gain.

Given that the Republican contract was going to force the firm to drop someone, it is proper that the party that put the gun to the firm’s head was the one to go. But the anti-gay bigots that have rallied around the GOP were livid. The hate-mongers started fuming and lying. They ignored the reason that the firm was forced to pick between clients and instead claimed it “gay bullies” who were responsible.

Republicans immediately started trying to find ways to punish the firm. Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, of Virginia, said his office would cease all work with the firm. He did seem unclear whether they had any work with the firm, but either way he was once again establishing his anti-gay credentials.

Now the National Rifle Association has said they will punish the firm by withdrawing their business. They insist that it has nothing to do with supporting anti-gay legislation and insist they are a “single issue organization.” Right! The timing alone exposes the lie. And they quite open stated, “ our decision is motivated by your withdrawal as counsel for the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the U.S. House of Representatives in defense of Section III of the Defense of Marriage Act.”

They claim that it was “indefensible” that King & Spalding withdrew from the DOMA case. They pretend this is about dropping a client “facing potentially controversial litigation.” What about Lambda Legal? Are they not a client “facing potentially controversial litigation” as well? They may be a pro bono client but law firms are still required to give their best attention to all clients, whether pro bono or not. The Republican measure could easily have required K&S to drop Lambda Legal as a client. But no one notices that, or they choose to ignore it.

The NRA can claim it has nothing to do with DOMA all it wants, their actions indicate otherwise. The reality is that the K&S has given the NRA excellent representation and the NRA admitted as much. They said the firm’s representation “has been outstanding.” Instead they said this is because the firm’s dropping of the Republican measure “serves to embolden ideological organizations to protest the legal representation of other organizations with which they disagree, with the goal of freezing their opponents out of legal representation entirely.” Cheeky of them to make that claim. Remember that the Republican contract forbade the firm from having any employees engaging in advocacy for any group that didn’t support DOMA, and that meant “freezing” out Lambda Legal.

I’ve never been found of the NRA, in that I’ve always seen them as a patsy for the Republicans. But this move clearly indicates that they are more a conservative lobby group than they are a Second Amendment group. Considering that King & Spalding had only given them “outstanding” representation they have no reason to assume this would not continue. If anything what the firm did should have reassured them. What if a new client had come to K&S with a contract that would require them to not engage in advocacy for any group that didn’t support gun control? Would the NRA say the firm should dump them in favor of the new client?

The Republicans wrote a bad contract that would have stripped others of their legal representation. It would have stripped hundreds of people of their First Amendment rights. That is what the NRA is defending.

Given that the “reasons” given by the NRA for dumping King & Spalding don’t hold up when scrutinized one can only conclude that there is another reason for their move, and I suggest it is likely the very thing that they so strongly insist is not their motivation. Often in politics the only way to discern the motives of someone is to look at what it is they claim is NOT their motives and assume the opposite.

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