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Winning Lawyers in Supreme Court Gun Case Leave Firm

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WASHINGTON—Discord over gun rights erupted within the law firm that secured Thursday’s Second Amendment victory at the Supreme Court, with Kirkland & Ellis LLP announcing shortly after the decision that it would no longer take firearms cases and that it was parting ways with the two star partners who won the case.

After a Kirkland news release praising

Paul Clement,

a former U.S. solicitor general in the George W. Bush administration, and

Erin Murphy,

the two announced they were opening their own firm.

“Unfortunately, we were given a stark choice: either withdraw from ongoing representations or withdraw from the firm,” Mr. Clement said. “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.”

The Senate on Thursday passed a bipartisan bill aimed at removing guns from people deemed dangerous. The legislation is the result of weeks of negotiations that started in the aftermath of back-to-back mass shootings in May. Photo: Cristobal Herrera-Ulashkevich/Shutterstock

Mr. Clement, whose clients include the National Rifle Association, represented its affiliate, the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, in November arguments before the Supreme Court. Ms. Murphy worked on the case with him.

“Paul and Erin have been valued colleagues,”

Jon Ballis,

chairman of Kirkland’s executive committee, said in a release. “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.”

Kirkland, one of the world’s largest law firms, declined to comment beyond its news release.

After recent mass shootings, other Kirkland clients began expressing reservations over the firm’s work for the gun movement, a person familiar with the matter said. Kirkland “started getting a lot of pressure post-Uvalde, hearing from several big-dollar clients that they were uncomfortable,” this person said. “Several partners agreed that they should drop that representation.”

On May 24, 19 children and two teachers were killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, by an 18-year-old gunman before he was shot dead by federal officers. That followed the May 14 massacre at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., that left 10 people dead.

Mr. Clement and Ms. Murphy, both former law clerks at the Supreme Court, have worked together for years at a series of different firms, representing business clients and bringing test cases to advance conservative legal objectives. Their new firm, to be based in Washington, will be called Clement & Murphy, they said.

It wasn’t the first time Mr. Clement has quit a corporate law firm that grew uncomfortable with the conservative causes he has represented. In 2011, Mr. Clement left King & Spalding LLP rather than drop his representation of House Republicans seeking to uphold the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denied recognition to same-sex couples married under state law. In 2013, the Supreme Court found the statute unconstitutional.

“I resign out of the firmly held belief that a representation should not be abandoned because the client’s legal position is unpopular in certain quarters,” Mr. Clement said then in a letter to King & Spalding’s chairman. “Defending unpopular decisions is what lawyers do.”

Mr. Clement and Ms. Murphy both left King & Spalding for the firm Bancroft PLLC, founded by another veteran of the Bush Justice Department, former Assistant Attorney General

Viet Dinh.

In 2016, the three lawyers all moved to Kirkland. In 2018, Mr. Dinh left that firm to become chief legal and policy officer of

Fox Corp.

, which shares common ownership with

News Corp,

parent of Wall Street Journal publisher Dow Jones & Co.

Write to Jess Bravin at jess.bravin+1@wsj.com

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