Tuesday, August 18, 2015
The D.C. Circuit today upheld the district court's award of over a million dollars in attorneys fees to three intervenors in Texas's lawsuit seeking preclearance for its re-drawn legislative maps under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
The ruling is a significant victory for the intervenors in this complicated case that involved challenges to Texas's redistricting maps in two simultaneous lawsuits under two different provisions of the VRA, Supreme Court intervention, and the Shelby County case itself.
Recall that the Fifth Circuit rejected claims for attorneys' fees in the companion case out of San Antonio just last spring.
The case started when Texas re-drew its congressional and state legislative districts after the 2010 census. Texas sought preclearance in the D.C. District, while opponents of the new maps filed their own Section 2 claim in the Western District of Texas (the San Antonio case).
Because the preclearance suit was not resolved in time for the 2012 primaries and general election, the San Antonio court imposed interim maps. The D.C. district court then denied preclearance (to all three maps--congressional, and both state house maps), and Texas appealed to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the Texas legislature adopted maps largely mirroring the San Antonio court's maps, and an intervenor moved the Supreme Court to dismiss the appeal as moot.
The Supreme Court then issued Shelby County, striking the VRA's Section 4, the coverage formula, but preserving Section 5's preclearance requirement (although it had (and has) no effect without Section 4's coverage formula).
One day later, Governor Perry signed the legislature's plans into law.
The Supreme Court then vacated the D.C. district court's order denying preclearance and "remanded for further consideration in light of Shelby County v. Holder * * * and the suggestion of mootness" of one of the intervenor groups.
The district court dismissed the case, concluding that Texas's "claims were mooted by Shelby County and the adoption of superseding redistricting plans."
The internors filed for attorneys' fees, arguing that they were "prevailing parties," because the original district court denied preclearance and Texas re-drew its maps. Texas filed a three-page "Advisory" declaring that it was the prevailing party based on Shelby County and that it wouldn't respond to the intervenors' motions for attorneys' fees "unless directed to do so by the Court."
In short, the state said that Shelby County (a different case entirely, litigated by different parties, and involving issues (the constitutionality of the VRA, which was not at issue in the Texas preclearance case) alone meant that Texas prevailed in its preclearance case. But Texas did not respond to the intervenors' argument that Texas's repeal of its original maps, and the mootness it caused before the Supreme Court vacated the denial of preclearance, rendered them prevailing parties.
Texas's move was a gamble, especially in light of district rules saying that an opponent to a motion has to file an opposition and that the court could treat any argument not made as conceded.
The district court rejected Texas's "Advisory" and ordered attorneys' fees. The D.C. Circuit today affirmed.
The D.C. Circuit held that Texas was wrong on its Shelby County claim--that Shelby County alone couldn't make Texas a prevailing party in its Section 5 case--and that under district rules Texas waived any argument that the intervenors didn't prevail by virtue of the district court's denial of preclearance and Texas altering its maps.
In other words, Texas's gamble in filing its "Advisory," and then again in not addressing the arguments in its opening brief on appeal, backfired.
The ruling upholds the district court's award of attorneys' fees to the Davis Intervenors ($466,680.36), the Gonzales Intervenors ($597,715.60) and the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches ($32,374.05).