Attorney General Eric Holder appeared on Capitol Hill to testify about the Department of Justice's budget request Tuesday and wound up fielding a number of pointed questions on a range of topics. Chief among them was the Department's announcement that it will not defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in current court proceedings.
Congressman Frank Wolf, R-Va., noted that Congress passed DOMA with wide margins.
"The Justice Department has a duty to defend the constitutionality of the laws of the United States," Wolf said as he pointed out that the Department of Justice has gone to court in support of DOMA in the past. He wondered why the policy has changed.
Holder said it's a matter of the legal standards which differ from one jurisdiction to another.
After considering the relevant precedents and "the history of discrimination that gays and lesbians have endured in our nation," Holder decided DOMA should be considered in the light of "heightened scrutiny."
Under that legal standard, Holder testified, "We made the determination that the statute could not pass constitutional muster."
Holder says he informed President Obama of the Department's analysis, counseling him to discontinue defense of DOMA and the president agreed.
Holder acknowledges that the decision was "unique," but noted that it's not unprecedented. Wolf characterized Holder's decision as a "decision to abandon your duty."
"I can tell you that what we did was apply the facts and the law in an neutral and detached way," Holder said, shooting down any hint that his personal views may have entered into the decision.
But throughout Tuesday's hearing, Wolf seemed unconvinced, saying the move "looks like a political decision more than anything else."
Holder went on to detail the legal and legislative rulings that have changed "the landscape" since DOMA was originally passed.
Among other things, Holder cited the repeal of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.
In the end, he defended the administration's decision as "appropriate."
"I think it's inappropriate and I think it's a bad decision, but we'll see how history treats it," Wolf said, wrapping up the exchange,