Meet the Lawyer Involved in Both of This Week’s Big Race-Based Supreme Court Cases

How did Bert Rein land such high-profile projects?

By: Marisa M. Kashino

The suspense continues over how the Supreme Court will rule in cases deciding the constitutionality of California’s same-sex marriage ban and the Defense of Marriage Act. But the court has handed down two other highly anticipated rulings this week, both regarding the treatment of racial minorities—and both involving the same lawyer, Bert Rein.

Though Rein cofounded the firm Wiley Rein in 1983, he’s often overshadowed by its other name partner: the higher-profile, former FCC chairman Richard Wiley. But this week, Rein is the one in the spotlight.

The former deputy assistant secretary of state during the Nixon administration focuses on antitrust, commercial litigation, and food and drug law. Rein is certainly not known as a Supreme Court lawyer, but this term, he found himself arguing twice before the justices—his first ever appearances at the high court.

In his first case, he advocated for Abigail Fisher, a Caucasian woman who claimed the affirmative action policy at the University of Texas prevented her from being admitted. In his second case, he argued on behalf of Shelby County, Alabama, that a key piece of the Voting Rights Act—the landmark civil rights legislation passed to combat voter discrimination—should not have been reauthorized by Congress.

The high court—sort of—decided Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin yesterday. In a 7-1 decision, with Elena Kagan recusing herself, the justices sent the case back to the lower appellate court to reevaluate the college’s policy. It was neither a loss nor a win for Rein.

But today, Rein got a clear victory when the justices decided Shelby County v. Holder. They determined in a 5-4 ruling that section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. The historic decision will be among the most controversial of the term and has already been denounced by President Obama, who called it “a setback” for efforts to end discrimination.

So how did Rein, a newbie at the high court, land such big cases? Edward Blum, a former stockbroker backed by conservative donors and the founder of the Project on Fair Representation, found plaintiffs for both Fisher and Shelby County, convinced them to file their lawsuits, and linked them up with Rein. Blum reportedly first got connected with Wiley Rein, widely regarded as a Republican-leaning firm, nearly two decades ago when he himself was a plaintiff in a case involving a Texas redistricting plan, a matter handled by another attorney at Wiley Rein.

So, for now, it’s Bert Rein’s week. But the attention will certainly shift tomorrow, when the justices appear poised to finally hand down the same-sex marriage rulings.