News & Politics

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?

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
, found
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.

Senior Editor

Marisa M. Kashino joined Washingtonian in 2009 and was a senior editor until 2022.