But his representation of House Republicans in support of the Defense of Marriage Act prompted an internal struggle at the firm. The Obama administration is no longer defending the 1996 law that defines marriage as a union between a man and woman, and prohibits the government from granting benefits to same-sex couples.
King & Spalding eventually withdrew from the case, leaving Clement in the uncomfortable position of having to quit his clients or the firm. He chose the latter, which drew criticism from some gay rights groups but praise from lawyers across the political spectrum, including Justice Elena Kagan, an Obama nominee to the Supreme Court.
At Georgetown University last year, Kagan spoke of Clement's "integrity, professionalism and honor" and said Clement's critics "misunderstand the traditions and ethics of the legal profession."
Clement himself says the experience bolstered his view that he would not choose clients out of fear of taking on unpopular causes. "It seems like a formula for a really uninteresting legal practice," he said.
And despite his ties to Republicans, Clement insists that when he stands before any court, "you have to really buy into the notion that positions are taken on behalf of a client. They're not your positions."
He notes that he has been on the liberal side sometimes — arguing for California prison inmates seeking better medical and mental health care and seeking higher fees for lawyers who won changes in Georgia's foster care program.
Still, when he left King & Spalding, he, along with many of his clients, ended up at Bancroft, run by Harvard law classmate Viet Dinh. The 13-lawyer firm is heavy with former Bush administration officials, including Dinh, and law clerks to Chief Justice John Roberts.
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