To his detractors, Edward Blum is one of the most dangerous men in America, a human wrecking ball on a mission to destroy the landmark achievements of the civil rights era and send the country back to a dark age of discrimination and harassment of minorities – in the workplace, in higher education and at the ballot box. That’s some reputation for a slightly built former stockbroker who answers his own phone, sounds nothing like the bullying demagogues who once held sway over the deep south, and even has some misgivings about the consequences of his actions. If anything, his soft-spoken, self-deprecating, consciously neurotic manner is reminiscent of Woody Allen from his early days in standup. Blum’s impact, though, is beyond question. For more than 20 years, working largely on his own, he has orchestrated lawsuits to challenge and, in some instances, dramatically reverse once sacrosanct legal principles. Case after case that he’s filed – on voting rights, on the drawing of electoral districts, on affirmative action – has made its way to the supreme court, often against the predictions of legal scholars, and found a sympathetic reception from the conservative majority.
This year, the supreme court justices heard oral arguments in back-to-back cases brought by Blum. The first was a challenge to the University of Texas’s use of affirmative action in its own admissions policies. And the second – perhaps the most radical case Blum has brought – threatens to change the entire basis of electoral representation nationwide by proposing that non-citizens, children and former felons be dropped from consideration in the drawing of state and local legislative districts.
Blum argues it’s about upholding the principle of “one person, one vote”, but the effect of such a change would almost certainly be to dilute representation in urban, Democratic-leaning districts and boost it in suburban and rural, Republican-leaning ones. Within municipalities, it is likely to make city councils whiter and more conservative. It would also counter the principle – enshrined in the constitution for federal elections, and established by the supreme court in 1964 for state-level ones – that legislators should represent roughly equal blocs of population, regardless of eligibility.