Blum lost the race badly, but he heard about cases that were bubbling up through the courts challenging other districts that had been drawn along racial lines. He recruited a handful of plaintiffs and raided his savings to hire an attorney to the tune of $7,000 a month. In 1996, by a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court decided that case —
Vera v. Bush — and struck down the district.
Blum, by his own admission, was “smitten” by the power to make change. Throughout the 1990s, Blum helped bring a half-dozen other cases challenging congressional districts he thought were unfairly structured around racial lines.
As word about him got out, he began to hear from white mothers in Houston who could not get their children into the public school’s vanguard programs because of quotas that specified the number of whites and blacks. He helped put together a case against the school district that was settled when the district agreed to open enough slots to accommodate all qualified students.
“See, these are good outcomes,” Blum said.
Bert Rein, a founding partner of the Wiley Rein law firm and the lead attorney in both the Blum-shepherded cases this term, said Blum’s agenda is “philosophical rather than personal.”
“He is able to see and appreciate those sides of issues with which he does not agree,” Rein said.
Yet Blum’s mission has had personal repercussions. While working at Paine Webber in the 1990s, he was told by his bosses to stop the political activities. He refused and quit.
In 2000, Blum and his wife, a retired insurance agent, moved to Washington, where he spent time hobnobbing in conservative legal circles. Eventually he landed an unpaid, visiting fellowship with the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank that once served as home for the late Judge Robert Bork, whose Supreme Court bid was sunk after fierce liberal opposition to some of his views, including those on civil rights law.
He turned to his next targets: ending race-based affirmative action in higher education, as well as requirements that jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination get clearance from the federal government before making changes that affect voting.
Finding the right plaintiff
The strategy that Blum uses to challenge the constitutionality of laws before the Supreme Court is not new. Civil rights attorneys in the 1950s and ’60s honed it to a science.