William Consovoy, a lawyer who became a go-to adviser for conservative causes, spearheading ongoing efforts to reshape election laws and dismantle affirmative action and also representing President Donald Trump in legal disputes over the release of his tax returns , died on January 9 at his home in Falls Church, Virginia. He was 48 years old.

In 2020, he was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, his mother, Linda Whalen, said. Mr. Consovoy was a key attorney in lawsuits challenging racially conscious admissions policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina that are currently awaiting the US Supreme Court decision. He was unable to participate in oral arguments in those cases in October due to failing health.

Even among his legal and philosophical adversaries, Mr. Consovoy was recognized as a formidable legal intellect, whose influence was belied by his young age.

“He was insightful, intelligent, well-informed, and most importantly, he was courageous,” Edward Blum, a conservative activist who worked with Mr. Consovoy to undo elements of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and on a series of affirmative statements . -Action of lawsuits, he said in an interview. “He took cases that the vast majority of lawyers and law firms in this country would not take.”

Mr. Consovoy stood out among the many Ivy Leaguers who populate the federal judiciary on both sides of the bank. He had aspired to work in sports management before enrolling at what is now George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia School of Law, which he said he decided to attend primarily because its northern Virginia location allowed him to save money by living with relatives.

“A lot of lawyers in DC have this kind of upper-class affection, and Will is not one of those,” William Baude, a University of Chicago law professor and friend of Consovoy, told The Washington Post in 2019. “You can say he’s still some kind of scrappy New Jersey guy who doesn’t care about pomp and circumstance.”

In the course of his legal studies, Mr. Consovoy found purpose in the law and particularly in conservative case law. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, whom Consovoy described as his “hero,” later hired him as clerk.

Mr. Consovoy spent the early years of his career as a partner at the Washington law firm of Wiley Rein. He was “deeply involved,” Blum said, “in the planning and execution” of Shelby County v. Headline. In that case, decided in 2013, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to strike down a central provision of the Voting Rights Act, which required states and localities with a history of racial discrimination to seek federal “prior clearance” before make changes to the ways citizens vote.

For those who agreed with the court, the decision represented a necessary update to a federal law nearly half a century after it was passed. For two of those who disagreed, it was a calamitous blow to civil rights protections when they remained in jeopardy. Mr. Consovoy, in remarks quoted by the New York Times, characterized the ruling as a “modest decision by the court.”

In 2014, Mr. Consovoy helped form the boutique firm that is now Consovoy McCarthy. The following year, he argued two cases before the United States Supreme Court: Spokeo, Inc. v. Robinsa case that was “not famous to the public but of great practical importance to the litigants in ‘position,'” legal commentator David Lat wrote in a tribute to Mr. Consovoy, and the other, Evenwel vs. Abbotton electoral redistribution.

But perhaps he became best known for his representation of Students for Fair Admissions, a group organized by Blum to challenge affirmative action in the college application process. (Mr. Consovoy was already working with Blum on Fisher v. University of Texasin which the Supreme Court in 2016 finally upheld race-conscious admissions).

In 2014, Blum’s group filed federal lawsuits against Harvard and UNC, alleging that racially-motivated admissions amounted to racial discrimination that particularly harmed Asian-American applicants.

“If the court … asks, ‘Can we be sure that Harvard does not discriminate against Asian-American applicants in the way that the Supreme Court asks us to have confidence if we are going to allow universities to use racial preferences?’ , I think the answer would be a resounding ‘no,’” Consovoy said in his arguments before an appeals court in 2020, according to the National Law Journal.

The Supreme Court is widely expected to rule against Harvard and UNC. Such a decision would be hailed by opponents of affirmative action as a victory for what they see as fair and criticized by supporters of race-conscious admissions as a blow against diversity and entrenched institutional bias. A ruling against the universities, Lat wrote, “could end up being Consovoy’s most enduring legal legacy.”

Mr. Consovoy also drew attention as Trump’s personal attorney during his long-running battle to prevent congressional Democrats and New York prosecutors from obtaining his tax and financial records amid investigations into potential conflicts of interest and foreign influence peddling. .

“We view the entire subpoena as an inappropriate fishing expedition that was not done in good faith,” Consovoy told an appeals court panel in 2019, also arguing that Trump was protected by “temporary presidential immunity.”

Referring to the Trump campaign’s boast that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone” and not “lose any voters,” a judge asked if Consovoy was arguing that, even in those circumstances, the president could not being investigated while in office.

“That’s correct,” Consovoy responded, noting that “of course, Congress retains the power of impeachment.”

In an email after Consovoy’s death, Douglas N. Letter, a lawyer who served as general counsel to the US House of Representatives during the House’s battles with Trump, recalled that he and Consovoy “became They faced each other in court on several occasions.”

“Will was an extremely skilled litigator,” Letter wrote, “and knew that I always had to bring my ‘A game’ when he was on the other side.”

William Spencer Consovoy was born in Plainfield, New Jersey, on August 31, 1974.

His father, Andrew, was president of the New Jersey State Parole Board before resigning amid allegations, which he denied, that he traded favors with mob members. He did not face charges and his son described the episode to the Times as “a painful experience for me and my family.”

Mr. Consovoy’s mother worked with the state board of compensation for violent crimes before directing a day treatment program for adults with serious mental illness.

In 1996, Mr. Consovoy received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey. At Scalia Law School, where he graduated in 2001, he studied presidential power with Kenneth Starr, the former US attorney general and independent attorney who investigated President Bill Clinton in the matter of his relationship with the former intern. from the Monica S. Lewinsky White House.

In 2020, Mr. Consovoy married Masa Anisic. He died the following year of colon cancer.

In addition to her mother, of Scotch Plains, NJ, survivors include her father, of Centreville, Va.; his stepfather, Bernie Whalen of Scotch Plains; and a sister

Despite its stature in the conservative legal world, Consovoy kept a strategically low profile. “I don’t talk to the media,” he is reported to have commented. “I speak to the court.”