Blum thinks that society’s growing embrace of diversity has made these old protections obsolete. “You can’t go to a small dinner party in most of America today and tell an off-color joke and not be ostracized,” Blum said.
He had previously guided the case of an Austin public utility to the court in the hope of killing the pre-clearance mandate. The effort failed; Blum tried again.
He searched the Justice Department’s Web site for jurisdictions that had been denied pre-clearance. After several cold-calls, he reached Frank “Butch” Ellis of Shelby County, near Birmingham, Ala.
“We just got along,” Blum said.
Ellis told him about growing up amid the dairy farms of Shelby County and about the county today — young and growing, where one city in the predominantly white county had elected its first black mayor in 2012.
“We’ve moved beyond race in these jurisdictions,” Blum said.
The court will decide
In a moment of serendipity a few weeks back, Blum boarded a plane from South Carolina to Washington and overheard a man talking about the challenge to the Voting Rights Act. Blum introduced himself and recognized Armand Derfner’s name.
Derfner, who helped shape the Voting Rights Act through Supreme Court arguments in the late 1960s, exchanged polite conversation with Blum during the flight. But he left wondering: “How can a nice person be doing such awful things?”
“The notion that the tiny infinitesimal group of circumstances in which a black person may get some favoritism . . . is the nation’s issue when blacks are on the bottom every single day, in every single way is just insane,” Derfner said. “What people like Edward Blum are doing is ignoring reality.”
Blum will leave it to the Supreme Court to decide. He will be in the courtroom when the justices hear the Voting Rights Act case Wednesday. He may not be arguing the case himself, but his handiwork will be in evidence.
This article has been changed to reflect that individuals had a 0.88 percent chance of having their cases heard last term at the Supreme Court — not a 0.88 chance.