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Party Above Democracy: The John Roberts Story


I have a piece at NBC News putting yesterday’s disgraceful gerrymandering decision in the context of John Roberts’s history of siding with the interests of the Republican Party over basic democratic values:

Practically — though the case also involved a Democratic gerrymander in the state of Maryland — since it is much easier for gerrymanders to favor rural and exurban parties than predominantly urban ones, this allegedly apolitical decision will massively favor the Republican Party and, of course, the white voters it increasingly exclusively represents.

Which, of course, brings us to voting rights: Six years ago this week, Roberts authored one of the worst decisions in the history of the Supreme Court, Shelby County v. Holder. The decision gutted the most important section of the Voting Rights Act, which is the most important civil rights legislation passed since Reconstruction. Roberts held essentially that Congress had exceeded its explicit authority to enforce the 15th Amendment’s prohibition on racial discrimination in voting because its remedies had been too effective and made race-based disenfranchisement less of a problem.

To state the rationale of the court’s opinion is to refute it: As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg observed in her unanswerable dissent, “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” And Roberts’s prediction that race-based discrimination in voting was no longer a major issue has proven to be howlingly wrong, but wrong in a way that benefits the Republican Party.

And the story gets even worse. In Shelby County, Roberts essentially pulled a bait-and-switch. While Roberts threw out Section 4 — which required jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to get approval from the Department of Justice before changing their voting laws — he emphasized that it was still possible to combat discrimination by suing under Section 2, which forbade racial discrimination in voting. But in 2018, Roberts joined a 5-4 decision written by Justice Samuel Alito that made proving discrimination under Section 2 effectively impossible. Heads or tails, the Republican Party wins and equal access to the ballot loses.

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