Chief Justice John Roberts uses phony statistics


Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Much has been written about the coded racism in Justice Antonin Scalia's line of questioning ("racial entitlement") regarding the Voting Rights Act, and his novel theory of judicial activism: "Congress is incapable of legislating so the Court will."

But Chief Justice John Roberts could barely hide his disdain for the Voting Rights Act as well. If you listen to the audio of the oral arguments, you can tell that Chief Justice Roberts just thought he was oh so clever (with a satisfied smirk). Too bad he was full of crap.

But Steve Benen writes in Massachusetts 1, John Roberts 0:

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has long opposed
the Voting Rights Act
, so it didn't surprise anyone when he was
outwardly hostile towards the law during oral arguments this week.
Indeed, the jurist seemed well prepared with talking points he delivered
with great authority.

"Do you know which state has the worst
ratio of white voter turnout to African-American voter turnout?" Roberts
asked Solicitor General Don Verrilli. When Verrilli said he did not
know, Roberts answered the question for him: "Massachusetts." Moments
later, the chief justice did it again, asking, "Which state has the
greatest disparity in registration between white and
African American?" Again the solicitor general did not know, and again Roberts said, "Massachusetts."

James Carter took a closer look
at the latest information on voting and registration from the U.S.
Census Bureau and found that Roberts appeared to be completely wrong.
What's more, the Boston Globe talked to
Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, who's eager to explain
just how mistaken the conservative justice is. "I'm calling him out,"

Galvin said.

Galvin was not alone in his view. Academics and Massachusetts
politicians said that Roberts appeared to be misguided…. Galvin and
political scientists speculated that Roberts drew his conclusions using
US Census Bureau data known as "The Current Population Survey," which
collects information on voting and registration every other year.
Political scientists say this is one of the few national databases, if
not the only one, providing state-by-state voting information.

But a review of those census data appears to contradict Roberts,
showing such states as Washington, Arizona, and Minnesota with similar
if not bigger gaps between black and white voters

"The concept of black communities in Massachusetts not voting is an
old slur, and it's not true
," 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

Supreme Court justices almost never speak to the press, and Roberts' office did not respond to the Globe's request for information to support the claim he raised this week.

"Don't bother me with the facts, I know what I believe," the conservative mantra.

Reading the transcript, it's clear that Roberts rejects the argument
that Southern states, with a history of systemic discrimination and
institutional racism, should be subjected to tougher scrutiny than other
states. To that end, the justice was eager to argue that a Southern
"red" state like Mississippi does a great job on registering and turning
out African-American voters, while a Northern "blue" state like
Massachusetts does an awful job.

But Roberts probably should have checked with a political scientist first.

According to the census figures, a larger percentage of blacks voted in Mississippi than whites, one percentage point more.

But political scientists caution against drawing sweeping conclusions
from the census survey or using it to compare states. The black
population in nearly one-fourth of states surveyed in 2010 was so small
that it was not possible to make statistically reliable comparisons. And
the margin of error for nearly another quarter of the states, including
Massachusetts, was in the double digits.

"The margin of error is huge," said Michael P. McDonald, a professor
of government and politics at George Mason University who specializes in
American elections. "They're not reliable numbers." […]

When scrutinizing voter turnout numbers, political scientists said it
is imperative to look at those figures in the context of the election
being held. Was it a national, state, or local election? Was it a
midterm election? Did the candidates heavily court voters within
communities of color? And what is the make-up of the black community,
citizens registered to vote or immigrants who have not become citizens?
Otherwise, the numbers exist in isolation, analysts said.

Massachusetts probably shouldn't hold its collective
breath waiting for an apology, but here's hoping Roberts at least
considers the details
before striking down all or part of the landmark
civil-rights legislation.

The Roberts Court is an embarrassment to jurisprudence.

UPDATE: NPR's Nina Totenberg explains how In Voting Rights Arguments, Chief Justice Misconstrued Census Data. "Bottom line, as Census officials told me, these numbers are simply not
reliable for state-by-state comparisons because of the high margins of
error in some states."


  1. Some social conservatives and tea party fanatics would love to return to the days of yesteryear when Jim Crow laws were SOP, and political intimidation of voters at election precincts was frowned upon, yet widely tolerated … and some justices on the SCOTUS appear to be all too eager to accommodate this quest for social devolution.