While Republican lawmakers had to pay up for help from powerful firms in lawsuits against the Obama Administration, so-called “aroused” lawyers from such firms are working for free to help House Democrats take down President Donald Trump.
This revelation was the subject of a Law.com story on Thursday afternoon. House general counsel Douglas Letter has his hands full right now (you may have seen his name pop up in litigation over congressional subpoenas aimed at President Trump’s financial records). Despite the full plate, Letter is not without pro bono high-powered help.
A key figure who was interviewed in the story we now discuss is attorney Kerry Kircher, formerly the House GOP’s general counsel during Barack Obama’s presidency. Here’s how Politico described Kircher’s role upon his resignation in May 2016:
Kircher oversaw several high-stakes legal showdowns between the House and the Obama Administration, filing a lawsuit challenging provisions in the Obamacare law and another trying to force Attorney General Eric Holder to turn over thousands of pages of records relating to the controversial gun trafficking investigation known as Operation Fast and Furious.
Kircher also signed the brief the House submitted over Democratic objections in 2013, urging the Supreme Court to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act, a law passed in 1996 prohibiting federal benefits for same-sex married couples. The court struck down that part of DOMA in a 5-4 ruling that presaged the decision the next year finding a constitutional right to gay marriage.
According to Kircher, there weren’t exactly attorneys lining up to work for free between 2011-2016 to advance certain unpopular Republican causes.
“It wasn’t like I could have gotten top-notch representation on a pro bono basis to do that,” he told Law.com.
Whether these were lawsuits over Obamacare or the defense of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), lawyers were paid upwards of $500 per hour for their services. Per Law.com:
During the Obama administration, the GOP-controlled House turned to private lawyers, first David Rivkin with Baker & Hostetler and then Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan’s William Burck, to lead their suit against the Affordable Care Act. Rivkin was reportedly paid $500 an hour, according to an ABA Journal report.
But Rivkin dropped out of the case, reportedly over concerns that the unpopular position could hurt his firm, and Burck also backed out. George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley was eventually hired for the lawsuit. Turley received $500 an hour for his work on the suit, and was authorized to receive up to $350,000, according to a Democratic letter discussing the terms of his 2014 House contract.
Kircher described high-powered D.C. lawyers as “aroused” by the litigation landscape (i.e. the constant showdown between the Trump Administration and House Democrats) these days. Others quoted in the story suggested there were a number of reasons why that is. Some of these reasons were boring: fun. Other reasons cited included the ideological, but the popularity of the lawsuits–and in some cases the novelty of the lawsuits–also appear to be perceived as a boon for various firms’ reputations.
Right now, lawyers working pro bono are attempting to help House Democrats defend Obamacare and stop President Trump from building The Wall through military funding, the report said. Former Acting Solicitor General of the United States Neal Katyal, who himself has worked pro bono on major cases (e.g. census citizenship question) against the Trump Administration (but not for the House) suggested that lawyers are “stand[ing] up and do[ing] this” because they are seeing things that are “beyond the pale.”
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