Tag Archives: john roberts

Linda Monk discusses the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (Update)

Let’s go to school. I was confused about the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Was does it do? Why was it necessary? Why was Section Five so important? Constitutional scholar Linda Monk answers all of these questions and more.

As you listen to this podcast, I would encourage you to check out some references. First, here is the Voting Rights Act. Secondly, Linda mentions a case that I had never heard of – South Carolina verses Katzenbach (more information here). You should also review the 15th amendment, which gives Congress the power to make voting fair across the US. We discuss the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Section Five of the Voting Rights Act. Finally, we discuss Eric Holder’s bid to try and make sure that elections are fair for everyone.

This is a great interview and conversation. Sit back and enjoy.

Update: Linda Monk clarifies: “FYI, technically the Supreme Court did NOT decide to strike down Section 5 of the VRA; it struck down the threshold definition used in Section 4, which meant that Section 5 did not kick in.” As usual, I was kind of clueless. So, I went back to the Voting Rights Act and looked at Section 4. Of course, Linda is correct. Here’s how ScotusBlog puts it – Today the Court issued its decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the challenge to the constitutionality of the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act. That portion of the Act was designed to prevent discrimination in voting by requiring all state and local governments with a history of voting discrimination to get approval from the federal government before making any changes to their voting laws or procedures, no matter how small. In an opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts that was joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito, the Court did not invalidate the principle that preclearance can be required. But much more importantly, it held that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which sets out the formula that is used to determine which state and local governments must comply with Section 5’s preapproval requirement, is unconstitutional and can no longer be used. Thus, although Section 5 survives, it will have no actual effect unless and until Congress can enact a new statute to determine who should be covered by it.

Another Blow to Affirmative Action (Updated)

Conservatives have been attacking affirmative action and the 1964 Civil Rights Law since the Reagan administration.  The Supreme Court has reversed the lower court (Second Circuit Court of Appeals with Sotomayor).  More later…

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From AP:

The Supreme Court has ruled that white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., were unfairly denied promotions because of their race, reversing a decision that high court nominee Sonia Sotomayor endorsed as an appeals court judge.

New Haven was wrong to scrap a promotion exam because no African-Americans and only two Hispanic firefighters were likely to be made lieutenants or captains based on the results, the court said Monday in a 5-4 decision. The city said that it had acted to avoid a lawsuit from minorities.

The ruling could alter employment practices nationwide, potentially limiting the circumstances in which employers can be held liable for decisions when there is no evidence of intentional discrimination against minorities.

“Fear of litigation alone cannot justify an employer’s reliance on race to the detriment of individuals who passed the examinations and qualified for promotions,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his opinion for the court. He was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. (more…)

Update: One thing is clear. The Supreme Court did nothing to clarify the situation, but instead muddied the waters. The Supreme Court seems to be saying that if you did not intentionally discriminate, then no discrimination exists. This must be just my overly simplistic way of reading this decision. This is obviously a false hypothesis. It’s clearly possible to discriminate against blacks, women and other minorities without doing it “intentionally.” Proving intent would be nearly impossible in most discrimination cases.

This case also points out some of the problems I have with some conservatives who say that judges need to “interpret the law.” The Civil Rights Act of 1964 clearly states that you cannot discriminate based on race but then it goes on to say when an employer can discriminate based on a “protected trait.” So how do you balance these things? The mantra, “interpret the law,” rings hollow.

The Supreme Court focused on a test that was given to these firefighters. Now we know from years of testing students that some tests can reveal racial bias. We know from an elegant study by Stanford researcher that minorities will perform worse a particular test if they are told that this is a test of intelligence. If minority students are told that this is a problem-solving test these students do perfectly well. Their scores are as good as their White counterparts. Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s arguments seem to be solid when she states, “In so holding, the Court pretends that “[t]he City rejected the test results solely because the higher scoring candidates were white.” Ante, at 20. That pretension, essential to the Court’s disposition, ignores substantial evidence of multiple flaws in the tests New Haven used. The Court similarly fails to acknowledge the better tests used in other cities, which have yielded less racially skewed outcomes.”

Finally, the Supreme Court has breathed just a flicker of hope into the anti-Sotomayor crowd. Over the next 24-48 hours, some conservatives will try to move quickly to capitalize on this momentum. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, they’ll say, is somehow unfit for the Supreme Court because she has a ruling that’s been overturned. This, of course, is a ridiculous statement. Nonetheless, I suspect conservatives will try to push this and get as much mileage out of this is possible. As Glenn puts itIn light of today’s ruling, it’s a bit difficult — actually, impossible — for a rational person to argue that Sotomayor’s Ricci decision places her outside the judicial mainstream when: (a) she was affirming the decision of the federal district court judge; (b) she was joined in her decision by the two other Second Circuit judges who, along with her, comprised a unanimous panel; (c) a majority of Second Circuit judges refused to reverse that panel’s ruling; and now: (d) four out of the nine Supreme Court Justices — including the ones she is to replace — agree with her.

Put another way, 11 out of the 21 federal judges to rule on Ricci ruled as Sotomayor did. It’s perfectly reasonable to argue that she ruled erroneously, but it’s definitively unreasonable to claim that her Ricci ruling places her on some sort of judicial fringe.

Update II: Balkination has more technical questions about this Ricci decision and how will it affect the Voting Rights Act.

Obama takes the oath (update)

Listen carefully.  I thought that Barack Obama was nervous, which he probably was, but Chief Justice John Roberts messed up the oath.

Each president recites the following oath, in accordance with Article II, Section I of the U.S. Constitution:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

From NYT:

For a couple of smooth-talking constitutional experts, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and President-elect Barack Obama sure had a hard time getting through the constitutional oath of office.

There was, first of all, a false start from Mr. Obama, who started to respond before the chief justice had completed the first phrase. Mr. Obama ended up saying the first four words – “I, Barack Hussein Obama” – twice.

Then there was an awkward pause after Chief Justice Roberts prompted Mr. Obama with these words: “that I will execute the office of the president to the United States faithfully.” The chief justice seemed to say “to” rather than “of,” but that was not the main problem. The main problem was that the word “faithfully” had floated upstream in the constitutional text, which actually says this: “That I will faithfully execute the office of the president of the United States.”

Mr. Obama seemed to realize this, pausing quizzically after saying “that I will execute –”

The chief justice gave it another go, getting closer but still not quite right: “faithfully the office of president of the United States.” This time, he omitted the word “execute.”

Mr. Obama now repeated the chief justice’s initial error of putting “faithfully” at the end of the phrase. Starting where he had abruptly paused, he said: “the office of the president of the United States faithfully.”

It was smooth sailing from there. All of the words in the oath were uttered, along with “so help me God” at the end.

People will argue about what the failure to utter the words in the precise order required by the Constitution means. But it will be an academic argument. It is not clear who would have standing to raise the argument that Mr. Obama had not become president as a consequence, and it is hard to believe that any court – or other body – would want to adjudicate the question.(more… )