Chief Justice John Roberts


Robert’s Long War against the Voting Rights Act will be lost because of Scalia’s self serving musings from the bench.

Shelby County vs. Holder offers Roberts an opportunity to complete a mission he began thirty years ago.

In 1981, Roberts, a young conservative attorney serving the Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush administration, wrote a series of memos to the Attorney General William French Smith. In the first one his thesis was that the Voting Rights Act ‘s provisions imposed burdens unequally upon different parts of the nation without sufficient cause.

In a second memo he wrote that voting rights violations should not be too easy to prove since they provide a basis for the most intrusive interference imaginable. Therefore, Roberts stated that discriminatory voting systems in most of the country could only be barred when discrimination could be shown to be intentional. This would require the kind of intensive investigation into motivation that would make it much tougher for the feds to intervene in states and localities and guarantee equal voting rights. Jurisdictions placing onerous burdens on voters could not be corrected under such a rule if the Attorney General was unable to prove that lawmakers and law enforcers intended to do harm.

Roberts, his associates, and his bosses failed to alter the Voting Rights Act during the Reagan and Bush administrations.

But for the next 30 years, Roberts continued to speak and write on this issue. His limited decisions from the bench also reflected this thinking when case law allowed him to apply his thinking. He did not get many chances.  The Supreme Court, the Legislature, and the President  continued to support, and even to expand the VRA’s reach right through George W. Bush’s administration. The Act has been renewed and amended by Congress four times, reviewed in Court findings 36 times, and the most recent being a 25-year extension was signed into law by Bush in 2006 after passing the House 390-33 and the Senate 98-0, one year after Roberts was appointed to the Supreme Court.

In 2009 as Chief Justice in an opinion for the majority (8-1) the court on a narrow statutory ground in a case involving the utility district in Austin, Tex., ruled that the Voting  Rights Act was properly applied. (See: But in that opinion he also offered the view that Section 5 represented an unconscionable and seemingly perpetual punishment for the South’s past sins. Roberts wrote that the government had made the “bailout provision”, that provided a way for jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to prove they no longer needed close supervision, “all but a nullity.”

The bailout provision is  not a nullity. In the three years since that ruling more than 100 jurisdictions have been allowed to bail out of Section 5—more than twice as many in the nearly three decades before. Making the case is relatively easy to do and the court costs related to this are small, normally less than $5000.

Roberts also wrote that bailout rules should not be administered by judges but by elected officials charged with governing the jurisdictions in question, another attack on the concept of federal oversight.

Roberts and conservative opponents of a strong Voting Rights Act may have lost in 1982, but in 2012,  they seem poised for a victory.

BUT now Scalia may have ruined Robert’s best chance to overturn the VRA.

Scalia (and Roberts) often hide behind what I call “a standard of Constitutional Purity” reflecting strict construction and original intention”  as the “plausible and reasonable” foundation for their decisions. Of course, as experience shows, Scalia and other conservatives are very willing to play with the “fundamental law” revising it, and interpreting it to meet their need to serve a narrow form of American conservative thinking.

Still I think Antonin Scalia sees himself as a new Conservative Moses, a Lawgiver from the Right. He is not shy in sharing his thoughts. As Scalia ages he is less guarded in his language choosing to offer incendiary ideas from the Courts High Bench.

I believe that statements like those he made from the bench labeling voting as a racial entitlement and stating that Congress lacks the competency to weigh in on issues of this kind make it very, very, hard for Roberts to support a significant change in the VRA.  No matter what their decision as a court is as stated in the majority opinion, it will be directly linked to Scalia’s thinking.

The public (and history) would associate Robert’s vote to two ideas: qualified American citizens do not have the fundamental right to vote, and that the checks and balances that are the key to the separation of powers in the three branches of government are not fundamental.

 A decision that knocks down the Voting Rights Act will be seen as a “Scalia decision.” Roberts does not want a legacy that will label his court as “regressive, reactionary and ridiculous.” He dodged that bullet with his Affordable Care Act vote. I think he will do the same thing  now. Duck and cover.

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Just bringing this matter before the Supreme Court is justifiable enough to show we still need VRA. Why do you need to change the voting rights unless you are trying to change someone voting. The past several elections show what is really going on. And, the trouble with changing it and then saying: “Roberts stated that discriminatory voting systems in most of the country could only be barred when discrimination could be shown to be intentional. This would require the kind of intensive investigation into motivation….” THIS IS ALL AFTER THE FACT! After the voting has been done. The results aren’t changed. See GORE VS FLORIDA And, we know the kind of help the Supreme Court was then! People turned away from the polls, names on lists that weren’t correct or expanded to pick up more people to disqualify, and ballots lost or misplaced. Long lines at the polls. Voting machine malfunction. Oh, in Wisconsin, there was a typing error. You can show it all happened but it doesn’t change anything after the election is closed and a winner/cheater is declared. Letting the States decide who, when, where, and how to vote is allowing the gerrymandering that is going on right now. Voting is a right giving to us under the Constitution and some of us had to wait a long time to get that right (men of color even got it before women!). VRA protects all people, of all colors, of all standards of living, both sexes, regardless if married or not and to whom, no matter where they live, or religious affiliation or no religious affiliation, or educated or not, the elderly, and all those that qualify with age. No one has a right to take it away now! It should be federally regulated to guarantee those people get their vote made and counted. No Horse Meat in the voting! And, get that old nag, Scalia, off the bench and out to pasture. He’s no stud, he was gelded along time ago. He is to old and bitter to realize it!


I fail to see how ‘original intent’ can be discerned. Even if it can be, why would ‘original intent’ be an important factor?
This is 2013; not 1787.


Murph, here’s what my first thought was about this. If Elena Kagan felt she had to recuse herself from cases where she had represented the government either directly or tangentially in a related case, why isn’t John Roberts in a position where he should recuse himself based on his involvement in working for the government to undermine the VRA?

Secondly, I too was wondering if Scalia has now tainted this opportunity for Roberts to kill the VRA by smearing it as a “racial entitlement”. Roberts is intent in bringing down civil rights and the rights of the people over the powerful (and white) in this nation but he is also egocentric enough to think about how his court will be remembered.

As you point out, does Scalia’s denigration of the CRA, saying that its protection of voting rights is a racial entitlement, override any premeditated reasoning Roberts originally contrived to use this case to accomplish his anti-democratic goals?

I don’t know. Maybe Roberts will plow forward, believing that the racist portrayal of this decision that Scalia has established will be forgotten over time or eventually argued away. He’s wrong there if he thinks that.

The offensive thing about Roberts as Chief Justice is that his game seems to be accomplish destructive things for our democracy but trying to do that beneath a facade that will make him look good in history.

I can’t tell you how anxious I am for one of the conservative justices to need to be replaced, Scalia in particular. Though I think his racist rant and other political statements have proven him unfit for the court and justifying his impeachment, I don’t expect any such thing to happen unless he snaps one day and gives into his desires to strangle small animals and kick children into oncoming traffic.


AdLib, looks like Roberts has his own problems with his mouth running off and cherrypicking numbers.

Is Massachusetts more racist than Mississippi, as Chief Justice Roberts hints?
Massachusetts officials came out swinging this week after Chief Justice John Roberts argued in a hearing on the constitutionality of a part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that Mississippi may be more sensitive to black voting rights than Massachusetts.

While Congress handily reauthorized the VRA in 2006 for another 25 years, conservative justices on the Supreme Court, including Chief Roberts, zeroed in this week on whether Section 5 has itself become discriminatory, since many indices suggest that blacks vote at equal or even higher rates than whites in the covered jurisdictions.
Justice Roberts pointed out as proof that Massachusetts, for example, has “the worst ratio of white voter turnout to African-American voter turnout.”
“The concept of black communities in Massachusetts not voting is an old slur, and it’s not true,” Secretary of State William Galvin said. “I guess the point [Roberts] is trying to make is Mississippi is doing so much better they don’t need the Voting Rights Act. He can still relay that conclusion, but he shouldn’t be using phony statistics. It’s deceptive, and it’s truly disturbing.”
As it is, Roberts is reading Census figures that partially support his contention, but he failed to include margins of error that could, also technically, put Massachusetts ahead of Mississippi when it comes to minority participation versus white.
Interestingly, some political scientists also argue that Roberts’ assessment didn’t take into account the context of specific elections in the Bay State, and whether blacks were specifically courted – a question that would be awkward to defend if they were talking about white voters in the South.
On top of that, Roberts’ jab at the Bay State is extra-prickly because Massachusetts has played a historical role as anti-slavery, anti-Jim Crow, and pro-Civil Rights in the historic struggle over America’s slave-holding legacy. Well into the 1950s and 1960s, meanwhile, Southern states like Mississippi resisted mightily attempts to restore the full franchise to blacks.
Mississippi’s history is instructive, however, to those who support extending Sec. 5. Even though 37 percent of Mississippians are black, the state didn’t have a black member of Congress until 1986. Today, however, 49 of 204 state legislators are black, and the state has a black congressman – a testament, most experts agree, to the success of Sec. 5.
Indeed, even the state’s attorney general, Jim Hood, argued in a friend of the court brief that Section 5 still plays a “vital role” in ensuring minority voting rights in Mississippi.


Murph, both of these “Justices” are nuts!