So how did Edward Blum do it? How did he guide not one — but two — cases to the Supreme Court in one term?
Blum is a 61-year-old former stockbroker with a gentle demeanor and a waify runner’s build. He fashions himself a Supreme Court matchmaker — hooking up worthy plaintiffs with top-notch lawyers. He also thinks government should never allow race to be a factor in its decisions. Liberals have labeled him the Republican who could gut affirmative action and key voting rights protections for minorities. Conservatives laud him as a starting player in their effort to end racial preferences.
On Feb. 27, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in
Shelby County v. Holder
, which challenges a pivotal section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Earlier in the term, the court heard arguments in
Fisher v. Texas
, a case in which a white student is challenging race-based admission policies at the University of Texas. The justices are expected to hand down decisions in both cases this spring.
Both could upend decades of civil rights law. Both were ushered along by Blum.
As director of the Project on Fair Representation and the project’s sole employee, Blum largely works alone. He found the plaintiffs after years of hunting and paired them with attorneys at Wiley Rein, a powerhouse Washington law firm. Blum’s legal defense fund pays the attorneys’ fees. Although Blum’s legal defense fund holds only $15,000, Blum says it has paid millions over the years to bankroll litigation.
“I’m just a regular guy,” he said quietly in a recent interview. A regular guy whose search for cases at the intersection of race, public policy and law has spanned 20 years.
“It’s not even a close call to say that he is dead wrong in his positions,” said Gary Bledsoe, a civil rights attorney and president of the Texas NAACP, which has tangled with Blum through the years.
Blum will say only that it’s the civil rights groups that have gone astray.
“The civil rights movement had it right from the very beginning — abandon the use of race,” Blum said.
To that end, he has developed a keen eye for plaintiffs with the story, demeanor and will to mount constitutional challenges to laws that show preference to minorities.
“Challenging race-based policies requires a very delicate touch and requires someone of a good heart . . . to understand that there is another side of the argument,” Blum said, describing how he looks for plaintiffs, “and to be sympathetic to that.”
Translation: Bigots, showboats and embittered activists need not apply — a sentiment Blum has put to work in more than one instance.
The power to effect change
Blum (pronounced “Bloom”) was born in Michigan and raised in Florida and Houston. He grew up the son of a shoe salesman in a home where Yiddish was spoken. “There were family members who had tattoos on their forearms,” Blum said.