December 8, 2012

Affirmative action: Filing suit over race-based protection

Edward Blum of Maine says race-based policies violate the principles they intend to uphold.

By JOAN BISKUPIC Reuters

(Continued from page 1)

Edward Blum
click image to enlarge

Edward Blum, seen at his home in South Thomaston, finds people to challenge affirmative action and other race-based policies and then lines up the legal team for the court fight.

Reuters/Joel Page

Donors Trust, which also handles the administrative side of the Project on Fair Representation, said most of the project's expenses are for legal fees. Blum said he draws an average annual salary of $50,000, paid by Donors Trust from funds earmarked for his project.

He said he and his wife, Lark, a retired insurance agent, also support themselves with income from savings, investments and Blum's part-time work as a municipal-bond analyst.

Blum said contributors to his project so far this year have included the conservative Milwaukee, Wis.-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which gave Donors Trust $100,000 to support Blum's group after Blum wrote them a pitch letter regarding the Fisher case and asking for support with costs. Bradley Foundation president and chief executive Michael Grebe confirmed the gift.

SON OF A SHOE SALESMAN

Blum was born in Benton Harbor, Mich., and moved around as a child. His father, Joseph, was a salesman, mainly of shoes. During a tough time when they were living in Florida, Blum said he drove with his father up to North Carolina textile mills to buy bulk loads of women's underwear, and peddled the packs along the road back South. "He sold them in motels, coffee shops, wherever blue-collar women would give him four bucks for a pack of underwear he bought for a buck and a half," Blum recalled.

He speaks in plain-Midwestern tones sprinkling his conversation with the Yiddish word emes, which means "truth."

A 1973 graduate of the University of Texas, Blum said he started out as a Democrat, but by the early 1980s began reading the neoconservative Commentary magazine and changed his views.

In 1984 he voted for Ronald Reagan. He soon became a successful stockbroker at Paine Webber in Houston. Then, in the early 1990s, came the "acorn that began all my activities," Blum said.

After noticing that his heavily Democratic district had trouble fielding a Republican congressional candidate in 1990, Blum decided to enter the 1992 Republican primary.

He won it, and in the general election faced an African-American incumbent Democrat. When Blum and Lark walked the district to shake hands with voters, he said, he had to carry a map because the borders zigged and zagged.

"Multi-ethnic neighborhoods were split apart," he said. "Block by block. Blacks over here. Whites over here. Hispanics over here."

Blum lost by a wide margin. At the time, court challenges were starting to mount over "majority minority" districts like his that had been gerrymandered to consolidate minorities and maximize their voting power. In 1993, the Supreme Court ruled that districts appearing to segregate voters by race, even if designed to help minorities, violate the Constitution's guarantee of equality.

Blum decided to sue Texas officials, alleging the districts unlawfully segregated voters by race.

He enlisted five local Republicans to join him, including Al Vera, then a high school government teacher, who became the lead plaintiff. Their complaint went to the Supreme Court. That 1996 case, Bush v. Vera, struck down two majority-black and one majority-Hispanic districts in Texas and ordered the boundaries redrawn.

Now retired, Vera said Blum is "like a bulldog once he attaches onto an issue he believes in."

Blum says he personally fronted about $100,000 of the legal fees in the case, which eventually rose to about $1 million.

He initially retained regional lawyers, then sought out a large Washington firm whose top partners had served in Republican presidential administrations.

Blum said he and the lawyers eventually recouped virtually all their money, as winners' legal fees are reimbursed in some civil-rights cases.

Bert Rein, partner at the firm now known as Wiley Rein, said he doesn't recall specific fees but Blum's account sounds right.

Blum went to court to watch oral arguments. He felt so vindicated that he decided to devote himself nearly full time to the fight against race-based laws and policies.

"Seeing how the whole thing can be put back together with litigation," he said, changed his life. "It really is the emes."

 

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