Supreme Court Snubs Lawyers Wanting Fees Paid for Legal Work against Voting Rights Act

Tuesday, January 26, 2016
A South Carolina woman, in 2013, shows support for a key section of the Voting Rights Act (photo: Richard Ellis, Getty Images)

By Lawrence Hurley


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a bid by conservative lawyers to claim $2 million in legal fees from the government in a case in which they persuaded the justices in 2013 to strike down a key part of the landmark Voting Rights Act (pdf).


By declining to hear the case, the court left in place a September ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that turned down the fee request made by the lawyers who represented Shelby County, Alabama.


In the United States, each side in a lawsuit pays its own attorneys' fees. But federal law allows individuals who win certain civil rights cases against the government to be reimbursed for their lawyers' fees.


Shelby County was on the winning side of a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in 2013 that threw out a part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that had required nine states, mainly in the South, to obtain federal approval before changing election rules.


Congress adopted the provision during the U.S. civil rights movement to make sure states with a history of racial discrimination could not institute new policies that would hurt black, Hispanic and other minority voters. The ruling, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, deemed the provision outdated, stating, "Our country has changed."


After the ruling, members of the Shelby County legal team led by Washington lawyer Bert Rein argued they should qualify for fees because they vindicated constitutional equality guarantees.


The appeals court had said the fee request "defies common sense" because the lawsuit was not seeking to advance the Voting Rights Act's anti-discrimination purpose.


The Shelby County case was initiated by conservative activist Edward Blum, who runs the Project on Fair Representation that regularly challenges race-based policies.


Two of his other cases are currently before the Supreme Court: one objecting to a University of Texas program that takes race into consideration in student admissions, the other against Texas state legislative voting districts under the "one-person, one-vote" principle.


The high court on Monday turned away a similar appeal in a separate case in which the state of Texas objected to more than $1 million in legal fees being awarded to lawyers who opposed a state legislative redistricting plan.


The lawyers represented various lawmakers and nonprofit groups, including former Texas Democratic state senator and gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis.


To Learn More:

50 Years since Passage of Voting Rights Act … and Birth of the Campaign to Reverse It (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)

Lawsuit against Florida “Non-Citizen List” Falls Victim to Supreme Court Voting Rights Ruling (by Danny Biederman and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Supreme Court Voting Rights Decision Simplified—A Republican Dream Come True (by David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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