Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Arguing About Reapportionment

BOND: And then one of the things you do when you get there is you file a lawsuit against the Speaker?

BRAUN: Yes, well, that was a little later. That was like five years later. Yes, when the 1980 -- it wasn't that much longer, now that you mention it, because it was the '80 reapportionment so the lawsuit was filed in 1982 when they actually, you know, did it. When they went to reapportion the state legislature my own party won the -- in Illinois, we have a tradition that the parties pull a piece of paper out of Abraham Lincoln's hat, literally, I mean, so you go into Abraham Lincoln's hat and pull out this piece of paper to determine who gets the right to draw the lines if there's a tie. And that's what happened. So the Democrats drew Abraham Lincoln's hat, got the favor of the hat that time, and drew the maps, and the maps, as drawn, absolutely eliminated any Hispanic representation — even though we had two huge Hispanic communities in Chicago — and minimized to the absolute fewest number of seats possible the seats in which blacks could likely elect a representative. And it was just wrong.

And so I did what I could, you know, fighting it in the legislature through the process and we lost. We were out-voted and walking down the street again. My street kept getting me in trouble. [I'm] walking down the street and this guy with dreadlocks who was a community activist—you know the type, right? They had long hair, the coats are too big and hanging off and he's got books under his arms—and he says, "Oh, this is terrible what's happened, somebody ought to file a lawsuit." And he says, "This is a just a travesty that the lines would be drawn that way." And I said, "Well, you know, we tried." I said, "the only thing I think can happen now is that somebody files a lawsuit," and he looked at me and he said, "Well, you're a lawyer, ain't you?" Like, "Oh, well," so they sucked me in and so I wound up— as matter of fact, it was really very funny, I said, "I couldn't possibly? I don't have a law firm. I'm just by myself." "Oh, don't worry, we'll get you a battery of lawyers and we'll put it together."

Well, he showed up that evening with a guy who also had dreadlocks, was probably high on pot and talking about the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights so I knew I was in trouble. I'm thinking, "Oh, my goodness," so I wound up drawing the lawsuit up on my dining room table and I had called a friend with one of the big law firms who said that he thought his firm would handle it pro bono. This is another time when serendipity plays such a role in my life because I went -- I took my papers, because, you know, the canons of ethics say you don't file lawsuits that you can't handle, and you know, I knew there was no way that I could handle a three-judge district court, you know, huge litigation like this on my own, but I filed the case just to, you know, just to make the record. I think it got that much notice in the newspaper, if any, and then went down to this law firm to talk with the lawyers about what they would do to handle this reapportionment case and they turned me down.

BOND: Really.

BRAUN: They said, "Oh, no, we're not going to get into that, that's too much of a political hot potato," and they turned me down and I remember I was so crushed. My friend was embarrassed because he thought he had worked all this out and I was on the verge of tears because I knew that the only thing I could do was go up to the courtroom and withdraw. There was just no -- and as I was coming down out of the elevator, I was going out just as Tom Sullivan was coming in. Tom Sullivan I'd met only on one other occasion when I tendered my resignation to him as U.S. Attorney because when I left to have the baby he came on as U.S. Attorney, so he was coming on just as I was going out the door, basically, so I'd only met him once but he waved and I waved back and he said [gestures]. So, I went around, and he said, "Oh, so, what're you doing these days?" And, "Oh, well," — so I told him the reapportionment story and he said, "That sounds really interesting. Send us the papers." And Tom, at that point, was a lawyer at Jenner & Block, one of the biggest law firms in Chicago and Jeff Coleman was with him, was his partner. I guess Jeff was his understudy, his second chair, and they took the case like forty going north.

They were both Democrats obviously but they thought, yes, this is the right thing to do, and they took up the case with a commitment that Dick Newhouse, also involved with this, that Dick and I stay involved, that we don't just give them the case and get lost. And we committed to do that and I remember working harder than I probably have worked on anything in my life because we had to coordinate. We'd get community people to do the computer work. We had the first program— [the] first computer program for reapportionment was written by this black guy who was a street person basically in Chicago and he sat there and did the math and we put together, because they didn't have such things. The computers were so new, but he put together a program to run the numbers, the census numbers, so we could do the case and we would spend nights sitting in my study at my house going over papers and trying to work the numbers out.

And then Ethel, who was our kind of secret spy because she was very much a part of the Machine — she had been my roommate, Ethel Alexander, but she was very much a part of the Machine — and so in fact was called as a witness against us, but the full story was that she had sat down with me with colored pencils one night and shown me the Machine dynamics of who had done what to whom, and why these lines were here and not there, and how they managed to work it out, and so that allowed us to produce a theory about the case that allowed us not only to win, but we made real history because it was the first time that a reapportionment case had been won in the North. Remember, the Voting Rights Act provision was limited just to the Southern states. It was the first time the Voting Rights Act was extended.

Well, it happened in two stages. We first had to make a pure 14th Amendment case, which was to say that there was deliberate discrimination which the speaker of the Illinois House has never forgiven me for it, because the court had to say he deliberately intended to discriminate, but then after that decision by the three-judge court, the Congress acted to extend the Voting Rights Act nationwide so the South wasn't just singled out anymore, and then under the Voting Rights Act case, a test, really the test just got easier, but it set up really the direction that the courts have followed, well, up until fairly recently, because the courts followed for a number of years in reapportionment cases. The case was Crosby v. State Board of Elections. But the really good news, I thought from that, was not only in that case we created the first Hispanic district ever, which gave rise subsequently to an Hispanic coming to Congress, but we also created additional black districts in Illinois, but as much the point, it didn't happen again. I mean, that was the last time that the party apparatus went out of their way to try to, if you will, stick it to their minority base as a way of keeping white politicians in power.