The state of Texas, one of the most energetic opponents of a key part of the federal Voting Rights Act, has turned what it was sure was a Supreme Court victory against that law into a legal defeat that will cost it more than $1 million. That was the result of a ruling by a federal appeals court on Tuesday, interpreting what it means when the Justices send a case back to a lower court for a new look. The unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will translate into a sizable legal bill for Texas to cover what opponents in a major election law case spent for their attorneys’ work. The panel sharply accused the state’s lawyers of failing to obey court rules, echoing an earlier comment by a federal trial court judge that “this matter presents a case study in how not to respond to a motion for attorney fees and costs.”
This dispute turns mainly on differing interpretations of a Supreme Court order, issued June 27, 2013, as a follow-up to its earlier ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, striking down a major provision of the 1965 voting rights law. The Shelby County decision nullified the formula that Congress had given for requiring some states — including Texas — to obtain the approval of federal officials or a federal court in Washington for any new state law on voting or elections. As a result, that clearance requirement could no longer be enforced.
Texas was one of a number of states covered by the requirement that supported the challenge to it in the Shelby County case and other cases.
At that time, Texas had a separate appeal pending before the Justices in a different case, seeking to challenge a lower federal court ruling in 2012 denying “preclearance” for new redistricting maps that the Texas legislature had drawn for its state legislature and for its delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives.