The U.S. Department of Justice is fighting a request from the lawyers for Shelby Co., Ala., for more than $2 million in legal fees and costs tied to their challenge of the constitutionality of a provision of the Voting Rights Act.
The government on Dec. 6 in Washington federal district court filed its opposition to the attorney fees and litigation expenses that Shelby County's lawyers—led by Bert Rein of Wiley Rein—contend they should receive for their work.
The U.S. Supreme Court in June, in a 5-4 decision, struck down the provision of the Voting Rights Act that established the formula for determining which jurisdictions were required to give the Justice Department or a federal court the authority to review certain electoral changes before they were implemented.
Justice Department lawyers argue in their papers that Shelby County—despite prevailing in the high court—is not entitled to legal fees from the federal government. The department's court filing is here.
The department's attorneys, including Avner Shapiro of the DOJ Civil Rights Division, argue three points against the fee request. Among them: There's no language in the Voting Rights Act "even hinting that the government consents to having attorney's fees awarded against it," Shapiro wrote.
Bert Rein, who argued for Shelby County in the Supreme Court in February, said today he will respond in court to the government's position. Rein, a founding partner of Wiley Rein, called the dispute a "significant issue."
In an interview last month, Rein told The BLT that Shelby County sued "to protect the right of Shelby and its citizens' right to put in place procedures it things will protect everyone's right to vote."
DOJ argues that Shelby County's lawyers, in their fee request, mischaracterize the nature of the case. (Read the fee request here.)
"The thrust of Shelby County's lawsuit was to vindicate States' rights, not to protect federal voting rights," Shapiro wrote in the Justice Department's papers.
Justice Department lawyers and attorneys for Shelby County acknowledged in November—when the $2 million fee request was filed—that the dispute presents "novel legal issues." (Shelby County, which sued in April 2010, is also seeking $10,000 in litigation costs.)
U.S. District Judge John Bates in Washington will first decide whether Shelby County's lawyers are entitled to fees in the first place before—if at all—turning to how much money the attorneys should receive from the government.