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A Humble, Impartial Umpire Just Calling Balls and Strikes


Ryan Gabrielson has an extremely important piece about the “facts” Supreme Court that turn out to be part of a garbage in-garbage out process with amicus briefs. For example:

In a 2013 case called Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, determined that it was no longer necessary to keep the six states under federal oversight. America had changed, the court concluded. Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, called the “extraordinary and unprecedented” requirements of the Voting Rights Act outdated and unfair.

To illustrate his point, Roberts constructed a chart and published it in the body of the opinion. It compared voter registration rates for whites and blacks from 1965 and 2004 in the six southern states subject to special oversight. Roberts assembled his chart from data in congressional reports produced when lawmakers last renewed the act. The data displayed clearly that registration gaps between blacks and whites had shrunk dramatically.

But some of the numbers Roberts included in his chart were wrong.

The chart suggested that rates of registration for blacks in 2004 had matched or even outstripped those for whites. But Roberts used numbers that counted Hispanics as white, including many Hispanics who weren’t U.S. citizens and could not register to vote, which had the effect of inaccurately lowering the rate for white registration.

There is no question great strides had been made in black voter registration in Georgia, which reached 64.2 percent in 2004. However, white registration was 68 percent, not 63.5 percent, as Roberts’ chart claimed. The rate of registration for whites exceeded that of blacks by 4 percent, rather than trailing it.

Similarly, the chief justice’s chart asserted that in Virginia, the rate of registration for whites was just 10 percent higher than the rate of registration for blacks, a narrowing that would have reflected enormous progress. But the actual gap, removing erroneously counted Hispanics, was 14.2 percent.

The argument Roberts was making — that the progress in southern states had been so substantial that there was no longer a need for the U.S. Department of Justice’s exacting oversight — might have remained persuasive. But the data he used as evidence was not true.

I am shocked that an opinion as well-crafted and persuasive as Shelby County contained factual howlers on points central to its holding!



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