Saturday, August 29, 2015

‘Give Us the Ballot,’ by Ari Berman - The New York Times

In Shelby County v. Holder the C.J. argues that the Voting Rights Act is no longer needed- so much has been accomplished.  Its strictures now unfairly burden the reformed southern states.  But, Berman and Rosen remind us, Roberts has long been motivated to gut the Act.  
Conservatives in the Reagan administration lobbied against the amendments, including John Roberts, then a 26-year-old special assistant to the attorney general, who wrote more than 25 memos opposing them. “An effects test would eventually lead to a quota system in all areas,” Roberts wrote. Nevertheless, the Senate and the House restored the effects test by a nearly unanimous vote, and President Ronald Reagan signed the amendments, which he followed with a reception attended by Coretta Scott King.
Roberts' elevation gave him the power, with four like-minded colleagues to accomplish what political considerations had prevented his master from accomplishing thirty years ago.   - gwc

‘Give Us the Ballot,’ by Ari Berman - The New York Times
Reviewed by Jeffrey Rosen

“Give Us the Ballot” is an engrossing narrative history rather than constitutional analysis. Berman does not explore why justices who are devoted to the original understanding of the Constitution have repeatedly voted to narrow the scope of the Voting Rights Act with the argument that the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment is colorblind. (In fact, as Justice John M. Harlan observed in his 1964 dissent from one of the original Supreme Court decisions regarding “one man, one-vote,” the framers of the 14th Amendment believed that the equal protection clause did not regulate voting or apportionment at all.) Still, Berman vividly shows that the power to define the scope of voting rights in America has shifted from Congress to the courts, a result that would have surprised the Reconstruction-era framers.


The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America
By Ari Berman
372 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $28.

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