The nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court are all lawyers, but most showed little empathy for their fellow attorneys on Wednesday as they debated whether legal fee awards can be enhanced for superior performance or exceptional results under a federal fee-shifting statute.

The justices heard arguments in Perdue v. Kenny A., brought by the state of Georgia to challenge a $4.5 million fee enhancement it was ordered to pay by a district court judge to reward lawyers who succeeded in reforming the state foster care system in a long-running class action. The enhancement would be on top of a $6 million “lodestar” award based on prevailing fees and hours billed. Lawyers for Children’s Rights Inc. and a private Atlanta firm worked on the case.

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