Federal taxpayers will have to foot the bill for some legal fees incurred by the state of South Carolina when it successfully fought to implement its voter ID law over the Justice Department’s objections, a panel of federal judges ruled Friday. The same three D.C.-based federal judges who ruled in October that South Carolina could not implement the law in 2012 said in a court order that because the state successfully argued it could begin implementing the law in 2013, it “is the prevailing party” in the case. Justice Department lawyers had previously argued that “neither party fully ‘prevailed’ in this complex case” and said each party should bear its own costs and expenses.
“To be sure, South Carolina did not obtain everything it sought. But the prevailing party test does not demand complete success,” the court ruled on Friday. “South Carolina has undoubtedly achieved some of the benefit it sought: it obtained preclearance of Act R54 for elections in 2013 and subsequent years.”
South Carolina spent an estimated $3.5 million on the lawsuit, which was filed after the Justice Department objected to the voter ID law in Dec. 2011.
The federal government will have to pay a small portion of that figure under the court order. The state had requested $90,379.59 in reimbursement from DOJ in October, but the court ruled that it wasn’t entitled to the whole amount and requested the state submit an updated bill removing certain fees by Jan. 11.
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the decision.