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Republican Lawyers Who Gutted 1965 Voting Rights Act Seek Millions From Taxpayers

The lawyers who argued the case destroying the law now want taxpayers to pay them.
 
 
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Whomever said crime doesn’t pay isn’t looking at one of the nation’s top Republican political law firms. The firm is seeking $2 million in legal fees from the government after litigating its “successful” Supreme Court case gutting the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“U.S. Department of Justice lawyers and attorneys from Wiley Rein, who represented Shelby County, Ala., in the voting rights dispute, are expected to fight over two issues: whether the challengers are entitled to fees in the first place and whether $2 million is too much,” reported the BLT: the blog of the Legal Times, earlier this week.  

This past June, a U.S. Supreme Court, dividing along the usual ideological lines, struck down the VRA’s Section 4 of the law, which contained a formula used to decide which states and jurisdictions should have to take special steps before making changes to their voting procedures. Essentially, this formula—based on whether changes in voting laws or rules are racially discriminatory—allowed the Department of Justice to prevent most Southern states and a handful of other counties across the U.S, with long histories of discrimination from turning away eligible voters. 

The Supreme Court’s ruling, which didn’t throw out the law but dramatically undermined its potential for action, immediately led to red states such as Texas and North Carolina instituting a catalogue of well-known voter suppression tactics. What’s outrageous is that the lawyers who argued the case destroying the law—whose initial funding came from wealthy right-wingers—now want taxpayers to pay them too.  

According to the BLT blog, that decision also has to be argued before a federal court.

“The fee request ‘appears to present novel legal issues,’ the attorneys in the case said in a Nov. 4 court filing. The government and civil rights groups involved in the litigation plan to oppose the fee request. U.S. District Judge John Bates will first decide whether Shelby County's lawyers are entitled to fees before looking at how much compensation is appropriate…

“Bert Rein, a founding partner of Wiley Rein and lead counsel for Shelby County, said in an interview today that they met the requirements for claiming fees. The county sued, he said, ‘to protect the right of Shelby and its citizens’ right to put in place procedures it thinks will protect everyone's right to vote.’

“If the judge finds Shelby County is entitled to fees, the focus would then shift to the amount of money the county's lawyers are seeking. Wiley Rein reported billing its standard hourly rates for the respective years it worked on the case (2010 rates for work in 2010, 2011 rates for work in 2011, etc.).”

The firm claimed its rates were in line with other top law firms, charging $920 per hour in 2012, BLT reported. “This year, Rein’s hourly rate went up to $950.”

Rein told BLT that he “reduced the firm’s fees by more than 15 percent to avoid disputes about inefficiencies in how the firm managed the case and to account for clerical work by lawyers and paralegals. After rounding down to $2 million, the firm’s overall average hourly rate was approximately $431.”

It’s not enough that the political hit men savaged one of the most important civil rights laws in the latter half of the 20th century. Now they want to make taxpayers pay them millions for that dirty work. 

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's retirement crisis, the low-wage economy, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).