Legal

Firm splits with lawyers who won gun rights case at Supreme Court

The exit follows a decision by Kirkland & Ellis to drop Second Amendment litigation.

Two of the lawyers responsible for a major victory for gun rights forces at the Supreme Court on Thursday are parting with their prominent law firm after it announced it would no longer handle Second Amendment litigation.

Former Solicitor General Paul Clement and Erin Murphy, a regular Supreme Court litigator, said they were launching their own firm after Chicago-based Kirkland & Ellis decided to step back from gun-related litigation.

“We were given a stark choice: either withdraw from ongoing representations or withdraw from the firm,” Clement said in a statement. “Anyone who knows us and our views regarding professional responsibility and client loyalty knows there was only one course open to us: We could not abandon ongoing representations just because a client’s position is unpopular in some circles.”

Through a firm spokesperson, Kirkland confirmed its decision but did not explain its rationale for dropping gun cases. A key attorney at Kirkland, Jon Ballis, said he hoped the firm could continue to work with Clement and Murphy on matters not related to guns.

“We wish them the best of luck in the future and we look forward to collaborating with them in the future in matters not involving the Second Amendment,” Ballis said in a statement.

The announcements, which appeared coordinated, emerged on the same day that the Supreme Court ruled, 6-3, to strike down New York’s law limiting concealed-carry permits to those who can demonstrate a “proper purpose” to have such weapons outside the home. Clement argued the case before the justices in November, and Murphy’s name appeared immediately below Clement’s on the briefs.

Clement’s departure from Kirkland & Ellis echoes a similar episode about a decade ago when he left Atlanta-based King & Spalding after that firm moved to distance itself from Clement’s work to preserve the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law banning benefits for same-sex couples.

“I resign out of the firmly held belief that a representation should not be abandoned because the client’s legal position is extremely unpopular in certain quarters. Defending unpopular clients is what lawyers do,” Clement said then. The Supreme Court ultimately rejected his position on DOMA in a 5-4 decision issued in 2013.

After the abrupt break-up with King & Spalding in 2011, Clement joined a small, Washington-based firm specializing in Supreme Court litigation, Bancroft PLLC. That firm’s attorneys joined Kirkland in 2016.