Washington, D.C. - Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer wrote today to Speaker John Boehner expressing concern over the House of Representative's intervention in the case of Cooper-Harris vs. U.S., a case in which a decorated U.S. Army veteran and her same-sex spouse are challenging the denial of VA spousal disability benefits.
“This latest decision not only ignores the civil rights of LGBT Americans but opens a new, direct assault on veterans,” the Democratic leaders wrote. “The men and women of our Armed Forces serve with courage and dignity on behalf of our safety and security. They risk their lives for the country they love - and they should not face prejudice at home because of whom they love. These brave soldiers deserve nothing less than our gratitude, our respect, and the benefits they have earned in battle.”
Pelosi and Hoyer, the Democratic Members of the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), strongly objected to the House's initial decision to intervene in Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) cases, which initially entailed a $500,000 contract with outside counsel. House Democrats have repeatedly questioned the Republican leadership over the cost to taxpayers and the accountability and oversight of Speaker Boehner's contract with outside counsel, which has now tripled in cost to $1.5 million.
Cooper-Harris vs. U.S. represents the 11th case Speaker Boehner has intervened in on behalf of the House. To date, Speaker Boehner has spent $742,000 in taxpayer dollars defending discrimination in federal courts.
In Cooper-Harris vs. U.S., the BLAG will be defending the constitutionality not only of Section 3 of DOMA, but also the definitional provisions of Title 38 that cover military and veterans' benefits. The Title 38 statutory provisions are separate and distinct from the DOMA statute. BLAG's resolution authorizing the defense of the DOMA statute does not cover any additional statutes other than DOMA; therefore, BLAG's defense of the Title 38 provisions is unauthorized.
Below is the full text of the letter:
March 30, 2012
The Honorable John Boehner
Speaker of the House of Representatives
United States Capitol
H-232, The Capitol
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Mr. Speaker:
Today, we were notified that the House, through outside counsel acting at your direction, has decided to intervene in a case challenging the constitutionality of laws denying federal benefits to military spouses on the basis of their sexual orientation. As members of the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), who were not consulted prior to this unwise decision, we strongly object to spending taxpayer money to intervene in this case against a decorated veteran, Tracey Cooper-Harris, and her spouse, Maggie Cooper-Harris. This decision clearly exceeds the scope of the original BLAG authorization, with which we initially disagreed.
This intervention once again puts the House of Representatives on the wrong side of the future - supporting discrimination, unfairness, and the denial of basic equality to all Americans. We have objected to prior decisions by the House Republican BLAG members to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to defend discrimination. This latest decision not only ignores the civil rights of LGBT Americans but opens a new, direct assault on veterans. The men and women of our Armed Forces serve with courage and dignity on behalf of our safety and security. They risk their lives for the country they love - and they should not face prejudice at home because of whom they love. These brave soldiers deserve nothing less than our gratitude, our respect, and the benefits they have earned in battle.
The plaintiffs in Cooper-Harris v. U.S. argue that federal law, including Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), 1 U.S.C. § 7, and portions of the Veteran's Benefits title of the United States Code, 38 U.S.C. § 101(3) and (31), denies them equal protection under the law by failing to uphold our promises to our servicemembers to care for them and their families. We agree, and note that the U.S. Department of Justice has notified Congress that Section 3 of DOMA - as well as the definitional portions in Title 38 dealing with military and veterans' benefits - “cannot be constitutionally applied to same-sex couples who are legally married under state law.” We applaud the decision of the Attorney General against defending indefensible discrimination.
Federal district courts have already deemed DOMA unconstitutional, and the Justice Department will not defend the law. We call upon the Republican members of the BLAG to rescind your unilateral decision to expand your defense of DOMA to cases involving veterans. If you insist upon continuing this costly and wasteful use of hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer funds, we request: (a) a formal vote of the BLAG on extending your defense of discrimination to veterans and their families, and (b) any extension of the existing legal contract, any new contract, and any additional expenditure of public funds on behalf of outside counsel receive full prior examination by the Committee on House Administration and the House Ethics Committee.
We look forward to receiving your response to this and the several previous letters from House Democrats on this subject.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
NANCY PELOSI STENY H. HOYER
Democratic Leader Democratic Whip