Rosemary Collyer. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/NLJ)
Texas won’t have to pay more than $300,000 in attorney fees to a group that challenged the state’s voter identification law in court, a federal judge in Washington ruled on Monday.
The ruling came several weeks after the same judge, U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer, ordered Texas to pay $1 million in fees to groups that challenged the state’s redistricting plans. The two cases raised similar issues, Collyer said in Monday’s decision, but different facts led to the different outcome.
Texas sought approval of its voter ID law from the U.S. Department of Justice, a process known as “preclearance.” Under a section of the federal Voting Rights Act, Texas was one of a number of jurisdictions required to get permission from a federal court or the Justice Department before making changes to election procedures.
The Justice Department refused to approve the voter ID law, finding Texas failed to show it wouldn’t have a discriminatory effect. Texas filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging that decision as well as the constitutionality of the preclearance process. A three-judge panel sided with the Justice Department on the voter ID law and held off ruling on the preclearance issue.
Texas appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Before the high court could rule on the voter ID law case, it struck down a central part of the preclearance process. Collyer said that, given the final outcome, the groups that intervened to challenge the voter ID law were not the winning parties and, as a result, weren’t entitled to fees.
Collyer in June reached the opposite conclusion in the redistricting case. There, a three-judge panel also ruled against the state. While Texas was appealing that decision to the Supreme Court, however, the state Legislature got rid of the redistricting plans at issue and drew up new ones. As a result, the case became moot and the challengers were considered the winners for the purposes of collecting legal fees, despite the later Supreme Court ruling striking down preclearance, Collyer wrote.
Texas is appealing Collyer’s ruling on fees in the redistricting case. On Monday, the state filed papers in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit calling the judge’s order “unprecedented.”
Although Texas won the fee issue in Collyer’s latest decision, the state didn’t escape criticism about the quality of its response. In both cases, the state filed a short “advisory” saying that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder striking down preclearance settled the question of who won. Collyer wrote in her June ruling ordering fees in the redistricting case that the “matter presents a case study in how not to respond to a motion for attorney fees and costs.”
In Monday’s decision in the voter ID case, Collyer said that “[e]ven with Texas’ threadbare advisory,” she found that the challengers were not entitled to fees.
A lead attorney for the group seeking fees in the voter ID case, J. Gerald Hebert of Alexandria, Va., declined to comment.