The Lonely Centrist

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Friday, August 19, 2005

Chasing Roberts on Civil Rights

The left keeps throwing out the idea that John Roberts opposes "voting rights."

See this Washington Post article. Some quotes:

"breathtaking in his approach to weakening the enforcement of civil rights laws."
- Nancy Zirkin, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights

"attempted to dismantle civil rights rememdies."
- Ralph Neas, People for the American Way

"opposed effective voting rights legislation."
- Senator Ted Kennedy

"questions about the nominee's commitment to progress on civil rights."
- Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid

Note that none of these leaders will actually want to describe just what Roberts has done to make him so "opposed [to] effective voting rights legislation." Why? Because then we would actually have a policy debate, and Roberts would win. Why? As I've described elsewhere, what Roberts's critics are saying on voting rights is that Roberts opposed an interpretation of the law that says that you don't need to prove any discrimination in voting, or any intent to discriminate, to successfully bring a claim of discrimination. You need merely show that the percentage of minorities elected to office is less than the percentage of minorities in the population. In other words, a quota system - if minorities don't fill their quota, the courts consider that discrimination, and can demand remedies such as redistricting by race, or even changing the size of the governing body. This is not a very palatable interpretation to most Americans. So the left just keeps shouting that Roberts opposes "voting rights." After all, everyone favors voting rights. As I've also noted, this is an effort to win the battle on semantics.

Update: Today Senator Kennedy contributes this op-ed to the Post. He claims, "contrary to the intent of overwhelming majorities in both the House and the Senate, it appears that Roberts proposed a very narrow and crabbed interpretation of the Voting Rights Act that would essentially eviscerate the meaning of that law."

But is that true? Yes, the 1982 Voting Rights Act amendments passed with overwhelming majorities - but only after language was added that specifically said, "Nothing in this section establishes a right to have members of a protected class elected in numbers equal to their proportion in the population."

However, as Justice O'Connor, whom Roberts will replace, noted in Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30 (1986), the court's interpretation of the law, "creates what amounts to a right to usual, roughly proportional representation on the part of sizable, compact, cohesive minority groups.... [U]nder the Court's standard, ... the elements of a vote dilution claim create an entitlement to roughly proportional representation." Kennedy, Neas, and the crew want now to keep intact this judicial interpretation of the law that creates this quota system - in direct violation of the statute that passed with an "overwhelming majority."

Remember, this is O'Connor, joined by Rehnquist, who may also be leaving the Court soon. So if, as they claim, liberals don't want to disturb the court's "balance," don't they have to support Roberts?

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