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Tuesday, December 6, 2022

As Democrats Renew Voting Rights Push, Offsetting Roberts Court Is Top of Mind

At Judge Roberts’s confirmation hearing in 2005, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, pressed him on what Mr. Kennedy characterized as his “narrow and cramped, and perhaps even a meanspirited view of the law” given his comments in 1982. But Judge Roberts said he was merely arguing the position of the Reagan administration and his boss.

“I was a staff lawyer in the Justice Department,” he told Mr. Kennedy. “It was the position of the Reagan administration for whom I worked, the position of the attorney general for whom I worked, that the Voting Rights Act should be extended for the longest period of its extension in history without change.”

Eight years later, the chief justice wrote the opinion dismantling significant elements of the Voting Rights Act, saying that “things have changed dramatically” since the law’s adoption in 1965 and that governments should no longer be subjected to preclearance.

“The tests and devices that blocked ballot access have been forbidden nationwide for over 40 years,” he said.

Critics of that ruling and the subsequent one issued last month argue that the host of measures various states have passed in recent months make clear that Republicans have found new “tests and devices” to restrict access to the ballot. Those include provisions that make it harder to vote early or by mail, banning or restricting drop boxes, shortening early or absentee voting periods and giving more leeway to partisan poll watchers.

In his 2005 testimony, Mr. Lewis, who was badly beaten in a civil rights march in Selma, Ala., in 1965, suggested that the nominee did not grasp what it had cost to enact the voting measure in the first place.

“In 1965, Jurist Roberts was 10 years old,” Mr. Lewis testified. “He may be a brilliant lawyer, but I wonder whether he can really understand the depth of what it took to get the Voting Rights Act passed.”

“As many of you know, I gave a little blood on the Edmund Pettus Bridge,” he told the senators, referring to the site of the march in Selma. “But some of my friends and colleagues gave all they had, their very lives for the right to vote.”

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