U.S. House Speaker, John Boehner has directed the House to defend DOMA in court (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)
House Republicans secretly agreed to raise the cost for defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court to $3 million in the first week that the 113th Congress was sworn into office, according to a copy of the contract obtained by the Washington Blade on Tuesday.
The contract, signed by new House Committee on Administration Chair Candace Miller (R-Mich.), allows for expenses to pay for outside counsel to defend DOMA in court to reach $3 million — a full $1 million more than the previous cost cap agreed to in September. In a statement this week, House Democrats said the agreement was reached in secret and they weren’t aware of it until late Monday.
“The General Counsel agrees to pay the Contractor for all services to be rendered pursuant to this Agreement a sum not to exceed $2,750,000.00,” the contract states. “It is further understood and agreed that, effective January 4, 2013, the aforementioned $2,750,000.00 cap may be raised from time to time up to, but not exceeding, $3,000,000, upon written notice of the General Counsel to the Contractor specifying that the General Counsel is legally liable under this Agreement for a specific amount.”
The contact was signed by House General Counsel Kerry Kircher and private attorney Paul Clement, the former Bush administration U.S. solicitor general hired to defend DOMA in court, on Jan. 3, or the first day of the 113th Congress. Miller signed the contract on Jan. 4.
On the same day the attorneys signed the contract, the House approved as part of its rules for the 113th Congress language giving authority for the House Republican-led Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group to defend DOMA in court. The cost cap was raised almost one month after the Supreme Court agreed to take up litigation challenging DOMA, known as Windsor v. United States.
The new agreement means that a cost cap initially set at $500,000 has been raised to $1.5 million, again to $2 million and now most recently to $3 million. Like the previous agreements, the contract states the cost cap may yet again be raised if the parties involved agree to a higher amount in another written contract.
But there’s new language in the contract putting a time limit on the services rendered by Clement; it’ll terminate when litigation is complete or at noon on Jan. 3, 2015 — whichever comes first. The contract also allows for an extension of time limit for parties involved. However, this time limit is almost certainly beyond the time the Supreme Court would reach a decision on DOMA before the end of its term in June.
House Republicans elected to take up defense of DOMA in court in March 2011 after the Obama administration announced it would no longer defend the statute. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) directed House general counsel to defend the anti-gay law after a party-line vote approving the decision to do so on the five-member House Republican-led Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group.
It’s not the first time that Democrats have accused Republicans of agreeing to raise the cost cap of DOMA in secret. The previous contract that raised the cost cap to $2 million was signed in September, but House Democrats said they didn’t obtain a copy until last month.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the two “no” votes on BLAG, responded to news that the cost cap to defend DOMA was yet again raised and raised in secret with consternation.
In a letter to Boehner dated Jan. 15, they jointly renew their call on House Republicans to discontinue defense of DOMA — but also made a new call for Republicans to demonstrate their defense of DOMA more transparently — calling the actions a “clandestine commitment of taxpayer funds” as well as “highly irregular and objectionable.”
“Until Republicans decide to abandon this effort once and for all, we ask you to make your legal plans clear; to make public every contract signed with outside counsel in this case in a timely manner; to declare the total cost of this case to the taxpayers; and to abide by the highest standards of transparency and accountability,” Pelosi and Hoyer wrote.
Pelosi and Hoyer emphasize the House defense of DOMA doesn’t “reflect the will of the House or the consensus of the BLAG.” House Democrats have been filing friend-of-the-court briefs against DOMA before the appellate courts considering the constitutionality of the anti-gay law.
A spokesperson for Boehner deferred questions to the House Committee on Administration, which didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment. It’s the first time over the course House Republican defense of DOMA that Boehner’s has deferred comment and provided a response or simply decline to answer.
Last month, Boehner told the Washington Blade during a news conference when asked he whether supports raising the cost cap to defend DOMA, “If the Justice Department is not going to enforce the law of the land, the Congress will.”
Below is the full text of the letter from Pelosi and Hoyer:
January 15, 2013
The Honorable John Boehner
United States House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Speaker Boehner:
As the two Democratic Members of the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), we wish to strongly reaffirm our objections to the repeated actions by the Republican leadership to secretly and dramatically increase the contract between the House and outside counsel in arguing to uphold the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in more than a dozen cases. This is not the first time that House Republicans have made a unilateral decision to raise the ceiling on expenditures for this wasteful litigation that supports a discriminatory statute, without any public discussion or advance notice to Democratic members of the BLAG, Members of the House, or the public. This clandestine commitment of taxpayer funds is highly irregular and objectionable, and it must end now.
Let us be clear: these steps do not reflect the will of the House or the consensus of the BLAG. Democrats do not support any decisions to invest taxpayer funds in defense of an indefensible law. We remain united in our opposition to any effort to preserve, protect, and defend discrimination in our country.
From the start, the Republican-led campaign to defend DOMA has been a practice in futility and a waste of Americans’ hard-earned tax dollars. The Republican-appointed, taxpayer-funded legal team has lost in every case. Courts across the nation have stood on the side of justice and equality for all Americans. DOMA is on its way into the dustbin of history.
It would be bad enough if Republicans were losing in court and accepting the result. Yet it is the height of hypocrisy for House Republicans to waste public funds in one breath then claim the mantle of fiscal responsibility in the next. With Republicans willing to take our economy and our country to the brink of default in the name of deficit reduction, there is simply no excuse for any Member of Congress to commit taxpayer dollars to an unnecessary – and futile – legal battle.
Until Republicans decide to abandon this effort once and for all, we ask you to make your legal plans clear; to make public every contract signed with outside counsel in this case in a timely manner; to declare the total cost of this case to the taxpayers; and to abide by the highest standards of transparency and accountability.
The Defense of Marriage Act now sits before the Supreme Court. We believe it is only a matter of time before this offensive law is a discarded relic of a bygone era. We look forward to the day when this measure is declared unconstitutional by the highest court in the land and when all of America’s families can know the blessings of equal protection under the law.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
STENY H. HOYER