White Supremacist Law Group Scores Two Key Cases at the Supreme Court
This week, the Supreme Court will hear two cases brought by a notorious white supremacist law group whose record includes convincing the Court’s conservative majority to gut the enforcement section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, one of the nation’s most important civil rights laws.
On Tuesday, in Evenwel v. Abbott, the team piloted by former investment banker Edward Blum and his law group, the Project on Fair Representation, will urge the Court to throw out the core of the 14th Amendment, which was adopted after the Civil War and gave equal legal protection to all U.S. citizens, notably freed slaves. Blum and his ultra-rightwing Texas plaintiffs want to invalidate the “one-person, one-vote” standard used when drawing state legislative districts. They want to count only voters, not the area’s total population.
“In other words, only a subset of the population is entitled to representation in state legislatures,” David H. Gans, director of the Human Rights, Civil Rights, and Citizenship Program at the Constitutional Accountability Center, wrote at NewRepublic.com. “Blum’s argument is that unnaturalized immigrants, children, and other who lack access to the ballot should not be counted for purposes of legislative representation, which would unquestionably result in a major shift in political power away from urban population centers toward the whiter, more rural areas of the state.”
If Blum prevails, and election law experts are skeptical, it would benefit the Republican Party by increasing the number of rural and suburban districts, because that’s where the GOP base tends to be concentrated. Conversely, it would shrink the number of urban districts, where more Democrats live.
“These plaintiffs in Texas are interested in stemming the growth of Latino political power,” Thomas Saenz, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund president and general counsel, said. But Blum’s Project on Fair Representation has an even broader goal, which, as its website states, is to “support litigation that challenges racial and ethnic classifications and preferences in state and federal courts.”
This race-blind rhetoric, while sounding idealistically pure, would have the real-world effect of repealing the the federal government’s efforts to bring the promise of equality, which was established in the 14th Amendment 150 years ago and has been deepened by landmark Civil Rights’ era laws, ranging from voting rights statutes to other areas of federal policy. As Gans wrote, “No court in history has ever accepted Blum’s radical claim—which would wreak havoc with the redistricting process and require a new kind of U.S. census—but Blum hopes to make history in the Evenwel case.”
Indeed, Blum, who Gans called “the country’s most dangerous legal mastermind,” has had prior success at the Supreme Court. It was his legal team that led the attack gutting the enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act in its 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. The Court’s conservative majority, led by Chief Justice John Roberts who wrote the opinion, stated that the nation has changed since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and its remedies were no longer needed. In sum, Roberts and his conservative brethren adopted Blum’s view that racial discrimination is no longer a problem in America.
Their ruling gutted the law’s enforcement formula that has helped millions of non-whites to vote by giving the Justice Department veto power over new election laws in states and counties with histories of discrimination. The day after the ruling, Republican-controlled legislatures in many southern states formerly under the VRA’s jurisdction passed a slew of voter suppression measures. These included tougher voter ID laws and ending early voting, such as African-American “souls to the poll” turn-out-the-vote drives.
The lead plaintiff in the Texas-based Evenwel case has accurately been described as a racist Republican. “[Sue] Evenwel is a Texas GOP and Tea Party activist” who has not merely backed the most ardent right-wingers, like ex-Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-MN, and 2008 vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, MotherJones.com noted. She is a longtime Republican county chairwoman and member of the Texas GOP’s executive committee who has repeatedly declared that President Obama was not born in the U.S. and that his father was a “Communist Party USA propagandist.” She’s also fumed that undocumented immigrants distort how legislative districts are drawn—as they are included in U.S. Census counts. And she’s “lashed out at Muslims, warning in an op-ed that showing tolerance to them means that Shariah law could ‘usurp the U.S. Constitution.’ And she has claimed that all money donated to mosques funds jihad.”
“Her co-plaintiff, Ed Pfenninger, has expressed some equally eyebrow-raising views,” MotherJones.com also noted. “A Christian fundamentalist who works as a security guard in Porter, Texas, Pfenninger operates a YouTube channel where he’s posted hours of videos of himself expounding on his beliefs. For instance, he’s described the Catholic Church as ‘the Mother of Harlots.’ He’s also said that Jews are ‘enemies of the cross,’ and that God created Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust because he ‘wanted the Jews back into the Land.’”
While much media coverage of Tuesday’s Evenwel v. Abbott hearing will likely focus on “one-man, one-vote” arguments and its potential to create a political advantage for the GOP, it’s likely to omit the white supremacist agenda driving Blum and his litigants.
The Second White Supremacist Case
The second case brought to the Supreme Court by Blum’s white power team will be heard Wednesday, when it will revisit Fisher v. University of Texas. There, the plaintiff, Abigail Fischer claimed in 2008 that she was denied admission to the prestigious University of Texas-Austin, due to her white race. As investigative reporters have noted from the legal record in prior rounds of litigation, her grades were so poor that she would not have been admitted even if she weren’t white. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back to a federal appeals court, where it sided with the university. But Blum’s group appealed and the Supreme Court decided to retake the case.
“Fisher will likely be closer,” the Constitutional Accountability Center’s Gans wrote. “Chief Justice John Roberts and a number of his conservative colleagues have repeatedly voted to strike down race-conscious educational policies as a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. In Roberts’ myopic view—announced in the 2007 case Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District that limited the authority of school districts to combat racial isolation—‘the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,’ but he has yet to find a fifth vote to strike down governmental efforts to use race to foster equality.”
As has often been the case in the Supreme Court in recent years, Justice Anthony Kennedy is seen as the swing vote. In Fischer’s first round, he wrote the use of race in admissions “serves values beyond race alone,” such as contributing to a more diverse student body, richer learning environment, and breaks down racial isolation and stereotypes. In the court’s last term, Kennedy also did not agree with the other conservatives and voted to uphold affirmative action in housing, notably under programs created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
What will unfold at the Court on Tuesday and Wednesday will be critical to the quest for greater racial justice in America. As the country’s population is increasingly multiracial, a white power-centric cadre among rightwingers has concocted a legal strategy based on the feel-good fantasy that America has healed all of the wounds stemming from slavery and its broader history of racial oppression. Whether the high Court’s five-member conservative block buys into this charade will be something to behold.