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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.

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In an order issued this morning, the U.S. Supreme Court said it would not hear Kinston, N.C.’s challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

 The Court will nonetheless be considering the merits of Section 5, given its decision on Friday to hear a challenge brought by Shelby County, Alabama.

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 challenged the Justice Department’s refusal to preclear that change, saying that DOJ was using Section 5 in racially divisive ways. Though the Department had initially refused to preclear the change, it ultimately withdrew its objections.

The Court did not comment on why it declined to hear the Nix appeal, but a lower court had already ruled that case to be moot since DOJ had withdrawn its objections.

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Election Day may have passed, but questions about voting rights are far from over. At the U.S. Supreme Court alone, at least four voting rights cases are pending and may be heard this term.

We’ll have more on that next week, but for now we’ll share what one son of the South had to say this week when confronted with a voter ID challenge in Ohio.

There, one day after the election, lawyers for Ohio secretary of state Jon Husted found themselves before U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley, defending Husted’s last minute directive to poll workers to reject any provisional ballot in which voter identification information had been improperly recorded.  Marbley had previously entered an order requiring poll workers to record that information on the ballot and holding them responsible for any errors, so that ballots could not be rejected on that basis. Read More

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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.