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Meet the man who, by tracking down the plaintiffs and helping fund two of the most closely watched cases before the U.S. Supreme Court this term , is on a mission to change the rules of race in this country. 

He is Edward Blum, a little-known 60-year-old former stockbroker.

Working largely on his own, with the financial support of a handful of conservative donors, Blum sought out the plaintiffs in the Fisher and Shelby County cases, persuaded them to file suit, matched them with lawyers, and secured funding to appeal the cases all the way to the high court. Abigail Fisher is the daughter of an old friend of Blum’s – a man who happened to call when Blum was in the midst of a three-year search for a white college applicant who had been rejected despite solid scores. Blum eventually got Shelby County to file suit after trolling government websites and cold-calling a county official.

Blum introduced Fisher’s father and Shelby County officials to the same high-priced but politically sympathetic Washington lawyers, who agreed to work for a cut rate to be billed to Blum’s backers. Neither Fisher nor Shelby County is paying to fight the cases that bear their names.

Over the past 20 years, Blum has similarly launched at least a dozen lawsuits attacking race-based protections. In addition to the Fisher and Shelby County cases, two other Blum-backed cases reached the Supreme Court. One struck down majority-black and majority-Latino voting districts in Texas. The other prompted the court to suggest it might eliminate a major portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which the conservative-majority bench may now be poised to do in the Shelby County case.

The Supreme Court will consider whether to hear two cases challenging Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act at its private conference on Friday, Nov. 2 – including one filed by the Kinston (NC) Citizens for Non-Partisan Voting, Nix v. Holder. Nix will be considered along with a companion case, Shelby County (AL) v. Holder.

Section 5 of the VRA requires certain states and jurisdictions to get U.S. Department of Justice preclearance of changes to voting practices.

In Nix, Kinston voters who had approved a 2008 referendum for non-partisan local elections are challenging the Justice Department’s refusal to preclear that change, saying that DOJ was using Section 5 in racially divisive ways. The Department had initially refused to preclear the change based upon on 2006 amendments to Section 5  encouraging voting practices that would help minority candidates for office attract white cross-over voters. Though DOJ ultimately allowed the changes, the Kinston voters are continuing their challenge, focusing on the 2006 amendments.

Shelby County involves a challenge to the formula for selecting jurisdictions covered by Section 5’s preclearance procedure, which was extended by the 2006 amendments to 2031. The county contends that the formula is based upon voting data from 35 years ago and that voting turnout and registration rates now approach parity in many of the covered jurisdictions.

A decision on whether the Court will hear the cases is likely late Friday or Monday, Nov. 5.

College basketball coaches make a cameo appearance at the U.S. Supreme Court this week in support of affirmative action in college admissions when, on Wednesday, the Court hears argument in one of the most-closely watched cases of the term, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.

Texas automatically accepts residents who finish in the top ten percent of their high school class and then considers race as one of several factors in admissions for the remainder of the class. Abigail Fisher — a white applicant in 2008 — claims that she would have been accepted but for the consideration of race.

A divided panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected her claim, saying that the University’s admissions policy was consistent with the Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling involving the University of Michigan Law School and allowed as a means of achieving a critical mass of minority students at the University. Read More