John Roberts

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Editorials: John Roberts Dismantled the ‘Crown Jewel’ of the Civil-Rights Movement | Theodore M. Shaw/The Nation

ne of the martyrs of the civil-rights movement, Vernon Dahmer, lies in a cemetery in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. A voting-rights activist and president of the local NAACP chapter, Dahmer was killed when his home was firebombed by Klansmen five months after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act (VRA) into law. Dahmer’s tombstone bears his famous words: “If you don’t vote, you don’t count.” Like every step along the path to racial justice, including the recent removal of the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s state Capitol, the VRA was bought and paid for with blood. Those who fought for it, like Dahmer, understood that it meant a new beginning for democracy, not an end of the need for vigilance.

Full Article: John Roberts Dismantled the ‘Crown Jewel’ of the Civil-Rights Movement | The Nation.

Editorials: Texas Two-Steps All Over Voting Rights | Richard Hasen/Slate

In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, one of the most important pieces of legislation in U.S. history. It contained key protections for minority voters, especially blacks, who had been effectively disenfranchised in the South. The act was a remarkable success, increasing minority voter registration and turnout rates within a few years. In 1982, an important amendment made it much easier for minority voters to elect candidates of their choice. Then, following the contested 2000 elections, states started passing new voting rules along partisan lines. As part of these voting wars, conservative states began passing laws making it harder to register and vote, restrictions that seemed to fall most on poor and minority voters. In the midst of all of this, the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down a key component of the Voting Rights Act. It had required states and jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to get permission from the federal government before making a voting change by proving that the proposed change would not make it harder for minority voters to vote and to elect their preferred candidates. Don’t worry, Chief Justice John Roberts assured the American public in that 2013 case, Shelby County v. Holder. Although states with a history of racial discrimination would no longer be subject to federal “preclearance” of voting changes because preclearance offends the “equal sovereignty” of states such as Texas, there’s always Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. That provision, Roberts explained, is available “in appropriate cases to block voting laws from going into effect. … Section 2 is permanent, applies nationwide, and is not at issue in this case.”

Full Article: Voting Rights Act Sections 2 and 5: Texas defends voter ID laws..

National: ‘Give Us the Ballot,’ by Ari Berman | The New York Times

Fifty years ago, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act on Aug. 6, 1965, he felt, his daughter Luci said, “a great sense of victory on one side and a great sense of fear on the other.” According to Ari Berman, a political correspondent for The Nation, he knew the law would transform American politics and democracy more than any other civil rights bill in the 20th century, but he also feared that it would deliver the South to the Republican Party for years to come. Both predictions proved to be accurate. “The revolution of 1965 spawned an equally committed group of counterrevolutionaries,” Berman writes in “Give Us the Ballot.” “Since the V.R.A.’s passage, they have waged a decades-long campaign to restrict voting rights.” Berman argues that these counterrevolutionaries have “in recent years, controlled a majority on the Supreme Court” and “have set their sights on undoing the accomplishments of the 1960s civil rights movement.”

Full Article: ‘Give Us the Ballot,’ by Ari Berman - The New York Times.

Editorials: Why there’s hope for easing Texas’ voter ID law | Carl P. Leubsdorf/Dallas Morning News

It was ironic but perhaps fitting that the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its ruling challenging the constitutionality of the restrictive Texas voter identification law on the eve of last week’s 50th anniversary of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act. After all, the 2011 Texas law exemplifies current efforts to undermine that still relevant act. But though the three-judge panel concluded the Texas law has a “discriminatory effect” on the poor and minorities, the nature of the ruling and the prospects for appeal suggest this is less than the sweeping judicial success for which opponents hoped. Indeed, its Republican sponsors made clear that, despite this defeat, they still hope to win the war in the Supreme Court, if necessary. That’s hardly surprising, given the fact that Chief Justice John Roberts has repeatedly questioned the continuing validity of the 50-year-old Voting Rights Act.

Full Article: Carl P. Leubsdorf: Why there’s hope for easing Texas’ voter ID law | Dallas Morning News.

National: Inside John Roberts’ Decades-Long Crusade Against the Voting Rights Act | Politico

John Glover Roberts, a 25-year-old graduate of Harvard Law School, arrived in Washington in early 1980. Harvard Law professor Morton Horwitz described Roberts as “a conservative looking for a conservative ideology in American history,” and he found that ideology in the nation’s capital, first as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist and then as an influential aide in Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department. At the time, Rehnquist and the Reagan administration were at the vanguard of a new conservative counterrevolution in the law—a legal backlash against the historic and liberal-leaning civil rights laws of the 1960s.

Full Article: Inside John Roberts’ Decades-Long Crusade Against the Voting Rights Act - Ari Berman - POLITICO Magazine.

Texas: A Limited Victory for Voting Rights in Texas | The New Yorker

In 2013, when the Supreme Court effectively struck down a crucial section of the Voting Rights Act, the disagreement between the five conservative Justices in the majority and the four moderate liberals in dissent was about history as much as law. For the conservatives, Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr., wrote, “Our country has changed” since the statute became law fifty years ago. Devices that once blocked minorities’ access to the ballot, like the voter fees known as poll taxes, had been outlawed for more than forty years. The percentages of whites and minorities who register to vote and then go to the polls are approaching parity in the South and other parts of the country where, half a century ago, they were far apart. It is no longer necessary, Roberts went on, for the federal government to pre-approve any proposed changes to election laws in states with records of entrenched discrimination, as the statute had required since 1965.

Full Article: A Limited Victory for Voting Rights in Texas - The New Yorker.

National: Voting Rights Still a Political Issue, 50 Years Later | US News & World Report

It was one of the most historic bills ever passed by Congress. And when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law on Aug. 6, 1965—50 years ago Thursday—he declared that enactment was a matter of morality and not just politics. “This act flows from a clear and simple wrong,” the president said. “Its only purpose is to right that wrong. Millions of Americans are denied the right to vote because of their color. This law will ensure them the right to vote. The wrong is one which no American, in his heart, can justify. The right is one which no American, true to our principles, can deny….It is not just a question of guilt, although there is that. It is that men cannot live with a lie and not be stained by it.” He called the measure “one of the most monumental laws in the entire history of American freedom”—a law that, very specifically, aimed to knock down legal barriers at the state and local levels that hindered or prevented African Americans from exercising their constitutional right to vote. But the issue is still being debated today.

Full Article: Voting Rights Still a Political Issue, 50 Years Later - US News.

Editorials: How to save the Voting Rights Act: Voting rights shouldn’t rely on parsing racism and partisanship. | Richard Hasen/Slate

In 2010, the Simpsons featured a news helicopter emblazoned with the logo: “FOX News: Not Racist, But #1 with Racists.” That slogan might be applied to today’s Republican Party, which in recent years has actively passed voting laws that make it harder for poor and minority voters to vote. Whether to label the Republican Party “racist” isn’t an academic exercise. The question is actually at the heart of lawsuits over the future of voting rights in Texas and North Carolina. It’s also a question with historical resonance, particularly on the eve of the Voting Rights Act’s 50th anniversary this week. The five-decade history of the Voting Rights Act is told masterfully in Ari Berman’s new book, Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America. Berman starts around the time of the Selma, Alabama, marches, but unlike the movie Selma, Berman goes on to give us the rest of the history: the expansion of voting rights protections in 1970 and 1975 to include Latinos, Native Americans, and others over the objections of racists, many in the Democratic Party; the important 1982 rewriting of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, providing additional protections for minority voters nationally, and (now Chief Justice) John Roberts’ key role for the Reagan administration in unsuccessfully fighting against the expansion; hot disputes over voting rights in Florida in the 2000 election; the controversial renewal of the expiring “preclearance provisions” of the act in 2006 that continued to require states with a history of discrimination to get federal approval before changing their voting laws; and the ongoing “voting wars” that accelerated when Roberts led the court’s conservatives in striking down the 2006 preclearance renewal in Shelby County v. Holder.

Full Article: How to save the Voting Rights Act: Voting rights shouldn’t rely on parsing racism and partisanship..

Editorials: John Roberts has been trying to gut the Voting Rights Act for decades | Scott LEmieux/The Week

In 2013, a 5-4 Supreme Court decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts eviscerated the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In Shelby County v. Holder, the court struck down the most crucial enforcement mechanism in the most important civil rights statute since Reconstruction. How did we get here? A major New York Times Magazine story by Jim Rutenberg provides an invaluable history of the long battle conservatives have fought against the law. And it shouldn’t be surprising that one major player in this movement was John Roberts himself. It’s important to emphasize the spectacular shoddiness of Roberts’ opinion in Shelby County. It fails to make an even remotely coherent argument to justify declaring that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act — which used a formula to determine which areas of the country required greater federal oversight of voting practices — is unconstitutional. The text of the Fifteenth Amendment explicitly authorizes Congress to pass legislation to address racial discrimination in voting, and the Voting Rights Act does not violate any specific textual provision.

Full Article: John Roberts has been trying to gut the Voting Rights Act for decades.

Editorials: New study rebuts John Roberts on Voting Rights Act | Zachary Roth/MSNBC

When the Supreme Court badly weakened the Voting Rights Act in 2013, it described the landmark civil rights law as outdated. The formula that Congress had used back in 1965 to decide which areas of the country should have their voting laws placed under federal supervision no longer matched modern patterns of discrimination, Chief Justice John Roberts claimed. “If Congress had started from scratch in 2006, it plainly could not have enacted the present coverage formula,” Roberts wrote for the majority, explaining why that formula was being struck down. But a comprehensive new study by a renowned historian and expert in voting discrimination suggests what voting rights advocates have been saying all along: that Roberts got it wrong.

Full Article: New study rebuts John Roberts on Voting Rights Act | MSNBC.

Editorials: Voting Rights, by the Numbers | New York Times

When the Supreme Court struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, its main argument was that the law was outdated. Discrimination against minority voters may have been pervasive in the 1960s when the law was passed, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. wrote, but “nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically.” In this simplistic account, the law was still punishing states and local governments for sins they supposedly stopped committing years ago. The chief justice’s destructive cure for this was to throw out the formula Congress devised in 1965 that required all or parts of 16 states with long histories of overt racial discrimination in voting, most in the South, to get approval from the federal government for any proposed change to their voting laws. This process, known as preclearance, stopped hundreds of discriminatory new laws from taking effect, and deterred lawmakers from introducing countless more. But Chief Justice Roberts, writing for a 5-4 majority, invalidated the formula because “today’s statistics tell an entirely different story.” Well, do they?

Full Article: Voting Rights, by the Numbers - NYTimes.com.

Editorials: The Supreme Court’s History on Voting Rights: An ‘Injustices’ Excerpt | Ian Millhiser/The New Republic

Chief Justice John Roberts’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder may be the most politically naïve decision of our era. Rooted in the notion that there simply isn’t enough racism left in the United States to justify a full-functioning Voting Rights Act, Shelby County struck down the law’s preclearance provision—which required new election rules in states with a history of voter suppression to be reviewed by federal officials before they took effect—and left voters to the mercy of a judiciary that is increasingly skeptical of voting rights. Yet, even if the Roberts Court were champions of the franchise, the history of voting rights in the United States reveals that a vigorous judiciary is simply not enough to protect these rights. Politicians determined to keep certain Americans from voting are too creative and too nimble for a judiciary that, by its very nature, must take months or even years to consider cases. And that’s exactly what happened for decades in the South before the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Full Article: The Supreme Court's History on Voting Rights: An 'Injustices' Excerpt | The New Republic.

National: Congressional Black Caucus, Democrats rip lack of voting right protections in Republican agenda | The Hill

The head of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is teeing off on Republicans over the absence of voting right protections in the GOP’s new congressional agenda. Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said he’s “deeply troubled” by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte’s (R-Va.) recent comments that Republicans have no intention of replacing central provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) shot down by the Supreme Court in 2013. “If this is indeed the position of the entire Republican Conference, then they have clearly drawn a line in the sand — one in which they are on the wrong side of,” Butterfield said in a statement. Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Goodlatte said congressional action is simply not necessary to improve the VRA because the parts of the law remaining after the Supreme Court ruling are “substantial.”

Full Article: CBC, Dems rip lack of voting right protections in Republican agenda | TheHill.

Texas: Supreme Court ruling could thwart Texas’ appeal in voter ID case | Dallas Morning News

An unexpected U.S. Supreme Court order setting aside a voter ID law in Wisconsin could spell trouble for Texas as it tries to appeal a federal judge’s ruling striking down Texas’ own photo-identification requirement. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott was taking steps Friday to appeal the decision overturning the Texas law. But some election law experts pointed to the Supreme Court’s order blocking implementation of Wisconsin’s similar voter ID requirements before the Nov. 4 election. The high court, 6-3, handed down an emergency order in the Wisconsin case over the objections of the panel’s three biggest conservatives — Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. The majority, including Chief Justice John Roberts, provided no explanation in the order. Because the Texas and Wisconsin laws are similar — with Texas’ law considered the strictest in the nation — Abbott’s appeal could run into a roadblock even if he is initially successful with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That is where he will lodge his appeal of Thursday’s decision by U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi.

Full Article: Supreme Court ruling could thwart Texas’ appeal in voter ID case | Dallas Morning News.

Editorials: Supreme Court could weaken voting rights — again | Zachary Roth/MSNBC

With four major voting rights cases currently before the courts, access to the ballot for the upcoming midterms hangs in the balance. But the stakes could be much higher still. If one of the cases winds up before the Supreme Court, as looks likely, it could give Chief Justice John Roberts and his conservative colleagues a chance to decisively weaken safeguards against race bias in voting. And with the Republican-controlled Congress unlikely to pass new voting protections, that could usher in a bleak new era for voting in America — half a century after the issue looked to have been put to rest. “I’m very worried that the Supreme Court will take a case on the merits, and write an opinion that drastically constricts the right to vote,” said Daniel Tokaji, an election law scholar at Ohio State University. “I think that is a very real danger, given the conservative composition of this court, which has shown itself to be no friend to voting rights.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg this week named the Shelby County v. Holder ruling, which neutered the Voting Rights Act’s strongest provision, as one of the current court’s three worst. But Shelby  left open a key question: What kinds of voting restrictions is the post- version of the VRA strong enough to stop? Any of the four pending cases could give the court a chance to provide an answer. 

Full Article: Supreme Court could weaken voting rights — again | MSNBC.

National: Access to polls is in the hands of the courts | MSNBC

Wisconsin’s voter ID law was on, then off, and now back on again—for now. A similar Texas law was blocked by a federal court before going into force last year, and could now be nixed once more. North Carolina’s sweeping and restrictive voting law looks likely to be in effect this November, but there’s no guarantee. Ohio’s cuts to early voting were put on hold recently, but that decision too could be reversed. And no one seems to know what’s going to happen with Arkansas’ ID law. In a slew of states with crucial races this fall, access to the polls is in the hands of the courts. That reality underlines how last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that weakened the Voting Rights Act has transformed the legal landscape on the issue — but also how the conservative push to restrict voting is now a national, not a regional, campaign. It’s a situation that is likely to cause confusion for voters no matter the legal outcomes. And looming at the end of the road is the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice John Roberts, no friend of voting rights, which could upend everything if it decides to clear things up by weighing in. “That is the big question right now,” said Myrna Perez, a top voting rights lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice, who has been arguing the Texas case. “Is this going to get before the court before the 2014 election? It’s certainly something that folks are pondering.”

Full Article: Access to polls is in the hands of the courts | MSNBC.

Editorials: Think we don’t need to update the Voting Rights Act? Check out yesterday’s primaries. | Janai S. Nelson/Reuters

The door is open for Congress to repair the nation’s most transformative election law, which was neutered by the U.S. Supreme Court a year ago today. Chief Justice John Roberts, in his majority opinion for Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, issued Congress a written invitation to renew the Voting Rights Act of 1965 after striking down Section 4 of the act and disabling the strongest safety check against racial discrimination in voting.  The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday on the Voting Rights Amendment Act shows that his invitation did not fall on deaf ears or timid hearts. Swift and dauntless action is needed in both houses of Congress, however, to ensure that voting remains an equal opportunity exercise for all Americans, and that Congress remains a relevant force in the defense of voting rights in places like Mississippi, Texas, Georgia and beyond. On Tuesday, conservative groups marshaled poll watchers for the senatorial primary run-off in Mississippi. Though a court blocked their presence inside polling places, their position just outside threatened to intimidate voters who had come to cast their ballots — echoing the power that poll watchers exercised throughout the Jim Crow South.

Full Article: Think we don’t need to update the Voting Rights Act? Check out yesterday’s primaries. | The Great Debate.

Editorials: Give Voters a Bill of Rights | Bloomberg

When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key formula in the Voting Rights Act last year, Chief Justice John Roberts had a constructive but not entirely practical suggestion: “Congress may draft another formula based on current conditions.” Against all odds, this Congress — on track to be the least productive in modern history — actually came up with a new formula. Unfortunately, it could do more harm than good. The old formula dictated which states and counties were subject to more stringent requirements under the Voting Rights Act, now almost half a century old. The law protects the voting rights of all Americans but — until the court’s decision — paid special attention to election rules and practices in eight states and parts of seven others, mostly in the South. Because of their history of disenfranchisement, those districts were required to get “preclearance” from the federal government for any changes to election practices, including ID requirements and polling hours.

Full Article: Give Voters a Bill of Rights - Bloomberg View.

Editorials: Does Supreme Court Want Truthier Elections? | Noah Feldman/Bloomberg

Was a vote for the Affordable Care Act a vote for “taxpayer-funded abortion”? Sounds like a question of opinion, doesn’t it? But when a pro-life advocacy group called the Susan B. Anthony List said as much about then-Congressman Steve Driehaus’s vote during the 2010 election cycle, Driehaus filed an action charging them with making a false statement about his voting record, a crime under Ohio law. Driehaus lost the election, and the case was never decided. But the SBA folks still wanted the federal court to strike down the Ohio law as unconstitutional. Yesterday, the Supreme Court allowed their challenge case to go forward — and that tells us something important about the future of election law. Because the Ohio court never got a chance to find SBA guilty or not guilty of making a false statement about Driehaus’s voting record, no court has yet addressed the question of whether Ohio can outlaw such false statements altogether. The Supreme Court restricted its unanimous decision, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, to the threshold question of whether SBA could go to court seeking to have the law overruled when there were no present charges against it. The court held that the answer was yes.

Full Article: Does Supreme Court Want Truthier Elections? - Bloomberg View.

Editorials: McCutcheon and the New Banana Republic | Norm Ornstein/The Atlantic

Many analysts have written a lot about the decision, with a natural focus on its direct implications for campaigns. Those are huge and important. But they are, I believe, overshadowed by the impact of the decision on corruption in America. Here, Rick Hasen and Dahlia Lithwick, two of the best legal analysts in the country, have weighed in, and I want to add my weight. Some have suggested that McCutcheon was not a terribly consequential decision—that it did not really end individual-contribution limits, that it was a minor adjustment post-Citizens United. Others have said that it may have a silver lining: more money to partiesmore of the money disclosed. I disagree on both counts. Justice Stephen Breyer’s penetrating dissent to the decision pointed out the many methods that campaigns, parties, and their lawyers would use to launder huge contributions in ways that would make a mockery of individual limits. Chief Justice John Roberts pooh-poohed them as fanciful. And, of course, they started to emerge the day after the decision. As for disclosure, the huge amounts that will now flow in through political parties will be channeled through joint committees, state and local party committees, and others in complex ways that will make real disclosure immensely difficult, if not impossible.

Full Article: McCutcheon and the New Banana Republic - Norm Ornstein - The Atlantic.