The five-member Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group consists of the speaker, the majority leader, the majority whip, the minority leader, and minority whip.
Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesperson, said the panel voted 3-2 to direct the House General Counsel to take up defend of DOMA, but had no information on any discussion that took place beforehand.
Boehner as well as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) voted in favor of directing counsel to defend the statute, while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) voted against such action.
Passed by Congress in 1996 and signed into law by then-President Clinton, DOMA prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages and providing married gay couples with the federal benefits of marriage.
Last month, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Obama administration would no longer defend DOMA in court and sent a letter to Congress informing lawmakers of the Justice Department’s decision. The move left the decision of whether to continue defense of DOMA in court to Congress.
Litigation filed against the statute in the Second Circuit — where there’s no precedent for laws related to sexual orientation — allowed the administration to conclude that DOMA is unconstitutional and to call on the court to examine the law with heightened scrutiny.
In a statement, Pelosi denounced the panel’s decision to take up defense of DOMA in court and called the statute “discriminatory” as well as “unfair and indefensible.”
“Since its proposal and passage, this legislation has raised constitutional questions and has been viewed as a violation of the equal protection clause,” Pelosi said. “The House should not be in the business of defending an unconstitutional statute that is neither rational nor serves any governmental interest. DOMA actually discriminates against American families.”
Pelosi said the defense of DOMA would sap the U.S. government of “hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, if not more” at a time when fiscal resources are limited.
“Pursuing this legal challenge distracts from our core challenges: creating jobs, strengthening the middle class, and responsibly reducing the deficit,” she said. “And that is why I voted against this action today.”
On March 11, Pelosi followed up with a letter to House leadership outlining her concerns.
In the letter, Pelosi asks House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to provide an estimate of the cost of defending DOMA. She notes the House general counsel has been authorized to hire private lawyers to defend the anti-gay statute.
“It is important that the House receive an estimate of the cost to taxpayers for engaging private lawyers to intervene in the pending DOMA cases,” Pelosi wrote. “It is also important that the House know whether the BLAG, the General Counsel, or a Committee of the House have the responsibility to monitor the actions of the outside lawyers and their fees.”
In the letter, Pelosi also expressed concern about the duration of the DOMA litigation – noting an estimate that the cases could take 18 months until they reach the U.S. Supreme Court — and questioned the necessity of the House intervening to defend the law.
“There are numerous parties who will continue to litigate these ongoing cases regardless of the involvement of the House,” Pelosi wrote. ”No institutional purpose is served by having the House of Representatives intervene in this litigation which will consume 18 months or longer. As we noted, the constitutionality of this statute will be determined by the Courts, regardless of whether the House chooses to intervene.”
Top photo: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi challenged GOP leadership to provide an estimate of the cost to taxpayers of hiring private lawyers to defend the Defense of Marriage Act. (via Facebook)