Political Notes – On gay marriage, K&S retreats under fire

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It’s not often that a law firm will “fire” a client as prestigious as the majority party in control of the U.S. House of Representatives, but that’s what King & Spalding did with their bombshell disclosure that they were pulling out of the legal fight involving the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Barely a week after Atlanta-based King & Spalding agreed to represent the House’s Republican caucus on DOMA matters, the firm abruptly reversed itself on Monday and said it was dropping out of the case.

During that intervening week, the law firm had ignited a controversy of nuclear bomb intensity among gay organizations that oppose DOMA and had applauded the decision of the Obama administration’s Justice Department not to defend that law in court anymore.

It was embarrassing enough when reporters pointed out that the president of the Stonewall Bar Association of Georgia, an organization that opposes discrimination against gays, was King & Spalding associate Brian Basinger.

King & Spalding was also, according to several media accounts, being pressured by prominent corporate clients like the Coca-Cola Co. to withdraw, pronto, from its efforts to defend a law that is considered to be discriminatory against gay Americans.

Here’s how Brian Beutler reported it for Talking Points Memo:

Sources with knowledge of the backlash confirm that one of King & Spalding’s top clients, Coca Cola, also based in Atlanta, directly intervened to press the firm to extricate itself from the case.

A Coca Cola spokesman declined to comment on or off the record for this story, but pointed TPM to the company’s long public history of support for equality and diversity.

DOMA defines marriage as between a man and a woman and holds that states may not be compelled to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. The Obama Administration recently decided it could no longer defend the constitutionality of the law, and placed the onus on [House Speaker John] Boehner, who quickly accepted it.

Other King & Spalding clients likewise conveyed to the firm that its decision to take the DOMA case could cause them problems, both internally and with customers, according to sources who spoke with TPM. It also faced its own internal backlash.

But it wasn’t just private pressure. King & Spalding also faced escalating protests from gay rights groups. The LGBT community in Atlanta has significant political influence, and the firm quickly became a target for major gay rights organizations including the Human Rights Campaign and the group Georgia Equality — the largest gay rights advocate in the state. The groups planned an aggressive ad campaign, direct communication with the firm’s clients, and a diminution of its Corporate Equality Index ranking — the metric HRC uses to track corporate support for gay rights.

They had also scheduled a large public event for Tuesday, April 26, but quickly canceled it after King & Spalding announced Monday that it had withdrawn from the case, sparking [Paul] Clement’s resignation from the firm. Clement, a leading light among top conservative lawyers in DC who served as solicitor general under George W. Bush, quickly landed at a boutique DC firm populated by other conservative lawyers, where he announced he would continue to handle the DOMA case for the House of Representatives.

Here’s something to look for in the aftermath of this controversy. Conservative groups like the American Family Association will often call for boycotts of corporations like Kraft Foods that they think are too gay-friendly. Will AFA and its colleagues call for a similar boycott of Coca-Cola products as a result of King & Spalding’s decision?

Words of Frazier

A.D. Frazier, the businessman who headed the Tax Reform Council’s efforts to revise Georgia’s tax code, told a luncheon audience Monday that lobbyists were to blame for the Legislature’s rejection of the council’s tax recommendations.

From a report by Dave Williams of the Atlanta Business Chronicle:

“We got out-lobbied,” A.D. Frazier, chairman of the Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians, told members of the Buckhead Rotary Club during a luncheon speech. “It was as simple as that.” . . .

On Monday, Frazier said they misunderstood the council’s plan, which was to replace a hodge-podge of tax breaks with an undetermined fiscal impact with a set dollar amount of tax largesse that would be determined every year based on what the state can afford.

“We weren’t eliminating tax breaks,” he said. “We were giving our economic development people discretion.”

More Sunday sales votes

The wave of referendums for the legalization of Sunday package sales of alcohol continues to gain momentum.

The elected leaders of both Forsyth County and the city of Cumming say they could be holding Sunday sales votes by this November. As reported by the Forsyth News:

The city of Cumming has council elections scheduled for November. While it’s not official, the county may hold a special election that same month to extend the 1-cent sales tax.

Both Forsyth County Commission Chairman Brian Tam and Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt have indicated the fall election could include the Sunday sales referendum.

“Forsyth would consider putting it on the ballot,” Tam said. “We’ll just have to gauge what the level of interest from the public is.”

Gravitt said he’s already been approached by local businesses asking the city to include it.

“It could very well be on the ballot this November,” Gravitt said. “We have a Wal-Mart and we have Target and some of the other bigger stores and obviously they don’t like to put up ‘not for sale on Sunday’ signs.

“These stores are obviously interested in it and we will take all of it under consideration and the [council] will decide whether they want to put it on there or not. But I think the people should have an opportunity to vote.”

Tam and Gravitt both said if the measure were put on the ballot, it would likely receive voter support.

© 2011 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: A. D. Frazier , Coca-Cola Co. , gay marriage , King & Spalding , Sunday alcohol sales , tax revision , U.S. House Republicans