Lawyers for the state of Texas have accused a federal district judge of wrongfully awarding “a consolation prize” of more than $1 million in attorney fees to groups that challenged the state’s redistricting plans. The challengers, which included Texas state legislators, voters and civil rights organizations, argued that they were entitled to the money because a court found that the redistricting plans ran afoul of the federal Voting Rights Act. Texas argued it was the winner because the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 struck down a section of the voting rights law that required the state to go to the court for approval in the first place.
U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer sided with the challengers, entering an order in June awarding fees. Texas on Monday filed its opening brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. “Trial courts have discretion when it comes to fee awards, but they do not have discretion to make winners out of clear losers,” Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell wrote. “The fee award is unprecedented, unlawful, and should be vacated.”
… In June, Collyer ordered the state to pay more than $1 million in fees. She criticized Texas’ lack of response to the fee petition, writing in her decision that the “matter presents a case study in how not to respond to a motion for attorney fees and costs.”
“Texas has had every chance to oppose the fees and costs that fee applicants seek since the applications,” she wrote. “It instead opted to file a three-page advisory that ignored every argument of fee applicants except the applicability of the Supreme Court’s ruling last year.”
In the brief filed on Monday, the state’s lawyers said there were no previous cases in which a judge awarded fees “to eventual Supreme Court losers, no matter how many lower court victories they accumulate along the way.” The court lacked the authority to award fees under a federal statute that had been declared unconstitutional, they argued.