Decade in review: One man’s crusade against race-based policies
on Dec 30, 2019 at 9:00 am
There is a long history of “test cases” being brought all the way to the Supreme Court by interest groups recruiting suitable plaintiffs. Two of this decade’s major cases involving race were no exception – although the “interest group” was comprised of one person.
In 2013, in Shelby County v. Holder, the court, by a vote of 5-4, struck down a pivotal section of the federal Voting Rights Act that required states and local governments with a history of voting discrimination to get permission from the federal government before changing their voting laws. Three years later in the second case, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the court voted 4-3, after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and with Justice Elena Kagan recused, to narrowly uphold the admissions policy at Texas’ flagship university, which uses race as one factor for assessing some candidates.
Both challenges were the handiwork of one very motivated nonlawyer, retired stockbroker Edward Blum. Stung by his 1992 loss in a congressional race, in which his district’s irregular boundaries had been drawn to increase the voting power of minorities, Blum has focused his efforts ever since on, as the mission statement of his nonprofit puts it, “challeng[ing] racial and ethnic classifications and preferences” in court. In Blum’s view, affirmative action “treats whites unfairly and stigmatizes minorities,” and the voting law’s preclearance requirement “unjustly punishe[d]” the state and local governments to which it applied “for long-abandoned racist practices.”
Blum’s most recent brainchild is a lawsuit against Harvard University alleging discrimination against Asian-American applicants; after the district court ruled for Harvard, Blum’s organization appealed, announcing its intention to take the case, “if necessary, to the US Supreme Court.”