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Color-Blind. . . or Just Blind? Houston-based Campaign Fights for “Civil Rights” by Blocking Minority Districts BY MICHAEL KING dward Blum’s business office is on the tenth floor of an office tower on Houston’s west side, in the heart of the glittering commercial district known as the Galleria. This is no ordinary office tower; the gleaming Post Oak structure is one of a group of three mirrored, curvilinear skyscrapers, designed by world-renowned architect Philip Johnson, which dominate the skyline north of the Galleria mall. Blum’ s view from his small office in the Paine Webber suite, where he makes his living selling municipal bonds, is among the most desirable in the city, overlooking the colossal shopping mall, the Transco Tower presiding over it, then south and west into the endless Houston suburbs. It seems an unlikely neighborhood to find a civil rights crusader, yet that is exactly how Edward Blum describes himself, Since -1993, Blum has been the chairman of “The Campaign for a ColorBlind America,” a legal defense and educational foundation dedicated, in Blum’s words, to eliminating racial distinctions in American political life. He describes the Campaign as “a loose, ad hoc group of primarily legal scholars, social scientists, and people who’ve been active in the civil rights movement, that communicate with one another about issues of racial gerrymandering.” The Campaign, active since 1993, has focused upon and is best known for instigating and supporting lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of congressional and state legislative districts redrawn, under the Voting Rights Act, to increase the percentages of AfricanAmerican and Hispanic voters. On June 14, the Campaign won its most important victory to date as, by a 5-4 decision in Bush v. Vera, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that three Texas congressional districtsall majority-minority districts would have to be redrawn. Blum insists that in contesting what he calls “racial gerrymandering,” his Campaign is carrying on the tradition of the civil rights movement. “You cannot classify people by race, and segregate people by race, for something beneficial,” he says. “You have defeated…the entire depth of the civil rights movement, the entire foundation of the civil rights movement.” He seems unconcerned that the traditional representatives of that movement almost universally disagree with him. Houston attorney Charles Drayden, for example, who has fought Blum’s organization in court on behalf of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, is very skeptical of Blum’s claim to a civil rights rationale for his attack on majorityminority districts. “I don’t think Edward Blum is a person who’s qualified to carry on that struggle,” said Drayden. “He hasn’t solicited the assistance or any of the ideas of any of the people who might have suffered from those kind of distinctions in the past, but he has decided upon himself, that he and his cohorts [in the Campaign] are the only ones who have any kind of ideas as to what is right when redressing racial distinctions in American politics. I think that is a very arrogant notion.” Arrogant or not, Blum and his Campaign have reason to be satisfied with their success. Beginning with Shaw v. Reno, the Supreme Court case addressing North Carolina redistricting that Blum credits as his inspiration, U.S. courts have been increasingly sympathetic to the Campaign’s arguments that considerations of race in redistricting are legally suspect, if not inherently unconstitutional. In North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas and elsewhere, judges have either sent legislators back to the drawing board to redefine district lines or decided to to redraw them themselves. In Texas, for example, Blum’s fledgling Campaign brought its first lawsuit, Vera v. Richards, in 1994, arguing initially that twentyfour Texas congressional districts had been illegally subject to racial gerrymandering. A three judge panel of the U.S. District Court in Houston \(Edith Jones, David Hittner and Melinda Hara “majority-minority” district: Blum’s home 18th, Houston’s 29th, and the Dallas-area 30th. The court ruled that those districts “were scientifically designed to muster a minimum percentage of the favored minority or ethnic group; minority numbers are virtually all that mattered in the shape of those districts. Those districts consequently bear the odious imprint of racial apartheid, and districts that intermesh with them are necessarily racially tainted.” The State of Texas appealed to the Supreme Court, which on June 14 in a 5-4 decision upheld the District Court decision, ordering the Texas districts to be redrawn because race had been the “predominant” factor in defining the district boundaries. The Court’s decision, like those in Shaw v. Reno and Miller v. Johnson ing plans across the country. For most minority advocates, the District judges’ accusation of “racial apartheid,” was particularly insulting. Laughlin McDonald, director of the Voting Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the National Law Journal, “Anyone who knows what apartheid is could never confuse racial redistricting with apartheid….To suggest that this is what racial redistricting is all about is dishonest.” But to Blum, Vera v. Richards \(upheld by Bush represented a major victory, and in its wake, the Campaign for a Color-Blind America has come to the aid of plaintiffs in redistricting lawsuits from New York to Florida, from Virginia to Hawaii. In Blum’s judgment, racial gerrymandering, however benignly intended, is indeed a form of apartheid: “The use of race or ethnicity or religion in our public life is inherently immoral. 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JULY 12, 1996