COLUMBIA — It cost South Carolina $3.5 million to sue the federal government over the states voter ID law but the federal government will have to pay some of that bill.
Late Friday, a court ruled that because South Carolina was the prevailing party, the federal government had to pay some of South Carolinas expenses.
A spokesman for S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson said he did not know how much money the federal government would pay. The state has until Jan. 11 to file a revised bill with the court.
The $3.5 million price tag was more than three times Wilsons original estimate. Friday morning, before the court had issued its order, a panel of state lawmakers approved a $2 million budget adjustment for Wilsons office to pay for the lawsuit a figure that surprised Democrats.
But sources inside the Attorney Generals Office heralded the court order as validation that it had won the lawsuit. Democrats called the celebrations smoke and mirrors, noting that the ruling upheld a much weaker voter ID law than lawmakers originally passed.
The judges, for their part, walked the middle ground.
South Carolina is the prevailing party, the judges wrote in their decision. To be sure, South Carolina did not obtain everything it sought. But the prevailing party test does not demand complete success.
South Carolina passed a law in 2011 that required voters to show a photo ID before they can vote. Republicans praised the law as protecting the integrity of elections. Democrats criticized the law as disenfranchising the hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians mostly minorities who did not have a photo ID.
In December 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice blocked the bill from taking effect. South Carolina sued, and a federal three-judge panel upheld the law in part, they said, because voters could opt out of the photo ID requirement if they had a reasonable impediment and signed an affidavit. The court also ruled that local election commissions may not review the reasonableness of the voters explanation.
The state Attorney Generals Office blamed the U.S. Department of Justice for the high cost of the case. They accused the federal government of delaying the case by 120 days by filing numerous frivolous motions, including challenging the 12-point font size on a document the state filed.
The Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., bears responsibility for the litigation costs, said Mark Powell, Wilsons spokesman. The decision was so emphatic, even the Department of Justice and Interveners did not appeal it. South Carolina was forced to pay a hefty price because a handful of Washington insiders refused to do the right thing.
Attempts to reach Justice Department officials were unsuccessful. But state Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said it was smoke and mirrors for them to say they won that case.
Had they (Republicans) agreed to the amendments we (Democrats) had put up to the bill, it actually would have been less expansive than what the court came up with because there would have been no court challenge, Hutto said. He (Wilson) made concessions at trial that had he made months earlier, would have saved the state millions of dollars.
Most of the money $3.4 million went to Bancroft, LLC, the Washington-based law firm of Paul D. Clement, a former solicitor general under George W. Bush and South Carolinas lead attorney for the lawsuit. South Carolina attorney Chris Coates collected $147,578.78 while $10,880 went to South Carolina attorney Butch Bowers.
The Attorney Generals Office plans to use money from its court settlements fund to pay for the lawsuit. The fund has about $6.5 million in it. Because it is not tax money or federal money, it falls under the category of other funds.
State agencies can request mid-year budget adjustments using other funds. The Office of State Budget has the final say on the requests but generally follows the recommendations of the state lawmakers on the Joint Other Funds Committee.