John Roberts on Government Reform

Supreme Court Justice (nominated by Pres. George W. Bush 2005)


AZ mail-in restrictions don't violate Voting Rights Act

Arizona voting restrictions challenged as violations of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. First, voters casting their votes on Election Day outside their precinct are not counted. Second, mail-in ballots cannot be collected by anyone other than an election official, a mail carrier, or a voter's family or household member. The court held, 6-3, that these restrictions did not violate the Act nor were they racially discriminatory.

Dissenters argued that the Court's narrow reading weakened the law and disregarded its intent to address disparities in how election laws affect different racial groups. The rule discarding "out of precinct votes" impacted black and Hispanic voters, with Arizona leading the country in discarding such votes. Restrictions on vote collection makes voting more difficult for Native Americans.

Samuel Alito wrote the opinion of the Court. John Roberts, Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett concurred.

Source: NPR commentary on 2021 SCOTUS rulings , Jul 1, 2021

No curbside voting during pandemic; keep existing rules

The U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision blocked a lower court ruling allowing curbside voting in Alabama and waiving some absentee ballot requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic. Conservative justices granted Alabama's request to stay a federal judge's order that would allow local officials to offer curbside voting in the July runoff and loosen absentee ballot requirements in three of the state's large counties.

"Alabama is again able to enforce laws that help ensure the fairness and integrity of our elections," Alabama's Republican Attorney General said. A District Judge issued a preliminary injunction after finding that Alabama's election rules will cause sick or elderly voters to "likely face a painful and difficult choice between exercising their right to vote and safeguarding their health, which could prevent them from casting a vote in upcoming elections." Alabama appealed the decision. The state argued that it would be confusing to change absentee ballot rules.

Source: Time magazine: Concurrence on MERRILL v ALABAMA, No. 19A1063 , Jul 3, 2020

World Court has no authority to bind US justice system

Our argument [against Texas having to follow World Court rulings] was that the President Bush's order usurped the authority of the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Roberts captured the essence of our separation of powers argument (that the president was usurping the Supreme Court's authority). The Chief Justice asked if the president "can take action that's inconsistent with the determination of federal law by this Court?"

With an opinion written by Chief Justice Roberts, the Supreme Court agreed with Texas that the World Court had no authority whatsoever to bind the U.S. justice system. At the same time, it struck down the president's order, concluding it was unconstitutional for the president to unilaterally surrender the sovereignty of the United States of America.

Source: A Time for Truth, by Ted Cruz, p.165-6 , Jun 30, 2015

Federal control over state voting is outdated

In Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court struck down the section of the Voting Rights Act which established a formula for determining if a state requires prior approval before changing its voting laws. Nine states with a history of discrimination must still get clearance from Congress before changing voting rules to make sure racial minorities are not negatively affected--this section was made toothless. Chief Justice Roberts said the formula Congress now uses, which was written in 1965, has become outdated. Justice Ginsburg, dissenting, said, "Hubris is a fit word for today's demolition of the VRA."

OnTheIssues explanation: This ruling led to a spate of "Voter ID" laws, which proponents claim is needed to protect the integrity of the vote, and which opponents say discriminates against youth & minority voters.

Opinions:Majority: Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, & Alito; concurrence: Thomas; dissent: Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, & Kagan.

Source: InfoPlease.com on 2013 SCOTUS docket #12-96 , Jun 25, 2013

2006: TX redistricting didn't violate Voting Rights Act

In "LULAC v. Perry", a case challenging how Texas had drawn the lines for congressional districts, Roberts wrote [in dissent], "It's a sordid business, this divvying us up by race." This simple sentence acknowledged the reality that we are using the very tools we created for the purpose of ending racial discrimination to perpetuate it.

In that 2006 case, the Supreme Court held that only one of the congressional districts Texas had drawn was in violation of the Voting Rights Act. That was the district held then by Henry Bonilla, a Hispanic Republican. The Court stunningly ruled that while the district was drawn to be "majority minority," it was not Hispanic ENOUGH for Hispanics to elect their "candidate of choice." It was this flawed reasoning that caused the chief justice to query during arguments of the plaintiff's attorney, "What number of minority voters just right to make a district qualify as 'Hispanic-opportunity,' rather than one masquerading as such?" She did not have a good answer.

Source: Fed Up!, by Gov. Rick Perry, p.110-111 , Nov 15, 2010

States waive sovereign immunity by accepting federal funds

Judge Garland has not been called upon to decide many civil-rights-related claims of great significance. It is difficult to label him as inclined either towards or against such claims, given that the panels on which he sat in such cases were generally unanimous.

The unanimous rulings in which Judge Garland participated similarly reflect a concern that civil rights plaintiffs receive an appropriate day in Court. E.g., Steele v. Schafer (2008, per Garland, reinstating hostile work environment and retaliation claims); Harris v. Gonzales (2007, Garland joining opinion, reversing judgment that employee could not establish lack of notice of filing deadline for civil rights suit).

Judge Garland also authored an opinion narrowly reading states' sovereign immunity from suit under the civil rights laws (Barbour v. WMATA, 2004, joined by then-Judge John Roberts, holding that WMATA waived sovereign immunity from suit by accepting funds under Rehabilitation Act).

Source: SCOTUSblog.com on 2016 SCOTUS confirmation hearings , Apr 26, 2010

Campaign finance reform should not limit political spending

Kagan has already distinguished herself as an aggressive advocate for campaign finance reform. The first case Kagan argued as solicitor general was Citizens United v. Federal Elections Committee. It was one of the cases Obama referenced when he said, "In a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens." In one fell swoop, the Court upended decades of campaign finance laws that kept corporations and their unlimited financial resources out of the political process. Kagan argued that if Roberts and the other conservative justices had their way, which they ultimately did, the voice of the ordinary American would simply be overpowered by the deep pockets of corporate America. This issue is not going away anytime soon. In one way or another, it will be before the Court in the coming years and the next justice will play a critical role in the outcome.
Source: Josh Gottheimer in US News & World Report, "5 Reasons" , Apr 9, 2010

Judicial nomination hearing should not be bargaining process

Sen. Schumer: I am making a plea here. Try to be a little more forthcoming in terms of trying to figure out what kind of justice you will become.

Roberts: You raised the question how is this different than justices who dissent and criticize, and how is this different than professors--and I think there are significant differences. The justice who files a dissent is issuing an opinion based upon his participation in the judicial process. He confronted the case with an open mind. He heard the arguments. He fully and fairly considered the briefs. And in my experience, every one of those stages can cause you to change your view. Now, the professor, how is that different? That professor is not sitting here as a nominee before the court. I believe every one of the justices has been vigilant to safeguard against the great danger of turning this into a bargaining process. It is not a process under which senators get to say, "If you tell me you'll rule this way, this way and this way, I'll vote for you."

Source: Winning Right, by Ed Gillespie, p.204-205 , Sep 5, 2006

Disabled people can sue government for discrimination

In the July 2004 decision Barbour v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), Roberts joined Merrick Garland -- a Clinton appointee -- in deciding that sovereign immunity did not bar a D.C employee with bipolar disorder from suing the transit agency under federal laws barring discrimination against the disabled. Conservative Sentelle dissented.
Source: Tony Mauro, Legal Times , Feb 22, 2005

Ok to extend time limit to sue for lawyerís malpractice

Roberts wrote the courtís opinion in BOW JUNG v. MUNDY, HOLT & MANCE, P.C.

Bow Jung sued his own attorneys, and the district court granted summary judgment for the attorneys, because Bow Jung-after learning of the conflict of interest-waited beyond the three-year limitations period for malpractice actions before filing suit.

Mother Jung died in Jan. 1995 survived by Bow Jung and May Jung. Mayís husband Robinson worked as a law clerk, and drafted multiple versions of Mother Jungís will, [including naming Bow as her son and as heir]. but Mother Jung never signed the will and died intestate.

In Aug. 1995, May challenged her brotherís heirship [because he had no birth certificate from his birthplace in China]. That dispute finally ended in Dec. 1999, when DNA testing of Mother Jungís exhumed body proved Bow was her natural son.

We reverse the district court [and find in favor of Bow Jung on grounds that the ongoing legal action extended beyond the three-year period].

Source: FindLaw case 03-7092, US Court of Appeals, DC Circuit , Jun 25, 2004

The Federal Government enjoys sovereign immunity

We do have a Federal System, that States have powers and responsibilities, and the Federal Government does as well. Certainly, under the Supremacy Clause, the legislation that you enact is the supreme law of the land, consistent with the Constitution. There is no sovereign immunity clause in the Constitution. On the other hand, the courtís cases have been fairly consistent that the Federal Government enjoys sovereign immunity. This body has done much over the years to waive that-the Federal Tort Claims Act, a whole variety of things. But that basic recognition of Federal sovereign immunity has always held firm, and I think it is hard to explain to State Government why do they have it and we donít, and if we had it at the time of the founding, when did we give it up? The Supreme Court has given some answers. Well, part of it you gave up in the 14th Amendment, in Section 5. But I do appreciate that it is a difficult area because youíre not dealing with a textual provision in the Constitution.
Source: Hearing before the Judiciary Committee of the US Senate , Jan 29, 2003

Corporate political spending is free speech.

Justice Roberts wrote the concurrence on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission on Jan 21, 2010:

Prior to the 2008 primary elections, Citizens United, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to educating the American public about their rights and the government, produced a politically conservative 90-minute documentary entitled Hillary: The Movie. This documentary covers Hillary Clinton's record while in the Senate & the White House. However, The Movie falls within the definition of "electioneering communications" under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 ("BCRA")--a federal enactment designed to prevent "big money" from unfairly influencing federal elections--which, among other things, prohibits corporate financing of electioneering communications. The FEC [enforced the provision] of BCRA prohibiting corporations from broadcasting electioneering communications within 60 days of a general election. [The Supreme Court rules that this] violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment.

Justice Kennedy , Opinion of the Court (Roberts, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas concurring):

Some members of the public might consider "Hillary: The Movie" to be insightful and instructive; some might find it to be neither high art nor a fair discussion on how to set the Nation's course; still others simply might suspend judgment on these points but decide to think more about issues and candidates. Those choices and assessments, however, are not for the Government to make.

Justice Stevens (dissent joined by Ginsburg , Breyer, and Sotomayor)

Neither Citizens United's nor any other corporation's speech has been "banned." All that the parties dispute is whether Citizens United had a right to use the funds in its general treasury to pay for broadcasts during the 30-day period. The notion that the First Amendment [allows that] is, in my judgment, profoundly misguided. Although I concur in the Court's decision to sustain BCRA's disclosure provisions, I emphatically dissent from its principal holding.

Source: Supreme Court case 08_CU_FEC argued on Mar 24, 2009

Public campaign finance can't be based on opponent spending.

Justice Roberts wrote the Court's decision on AZ FREEDOM CLUB PAC v. BENNETT on Jun 27, 2011:

An Arizona public campaign financing law allowed a person who agreed to the restrictions of a publicly financed campaign to receive an initial allotment from the state. That initial allotment was increased when the spending of a privately financed opponent together with the spending of any independent group exceeded that initial allotment. The public funds to match opponent expenditures topped out at two times the initial allotment.

HELD: Delivered by Roberts; joined by Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas & Alito

Arizona's public financing law places a burden on privately financed candidates. If privately financed candidates spend money above a certain level, they necessarily entitle their publicly financed opponents to greater funding. Their First Amendment right to free speech in a political matter--which includes spending money on their campaigns--is inhibited. Independent groups do not qualify for public financing at all, but their spending still may lead to a funding increase for the candidates the independent groups oppose. Leveling the playing is not a compelling state interest justifying a burden on a First Amendment right, nor is combating corruption. Arizona would be free to give the maximum amount to all public candidates, but that does not justify inhibiting the free speech of candidates and independent groups.

DISSENT: Kagan dissents; joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor

The First Amendment's core purpose is to foster a political system full of robust discussion and debate. Arizona's public campaign finance did not restrict speech, it increased speech through public subsidy with the goal of decreasing the corruption of both quid pro quo campaign payments made in exchange for official acts or an office seeker feeling beholden to his great financial supporters. Any burden on free speech, the burden could hardly be more substantial than what the Court announces would be legal: a larger, up-front allotment to a public candida
Source: Supreme Court case 11-AZ-PAC argued on Mar 28, 2011

Other Justices on Government Reform: John Roberts on other issues:
Samuel Alito(since 2006)
Amy Coney Barrett(since 2020)
Stephen Breyer(since 1994)
Neil Gorsuch(since 2017)
Ketanji Brown Jackson(nominated 2022)
Elena Kagan(since 2010)
Brett Kavanaugh(since 2018)
John Roberts(since 2005)
Sonia Sotomayor(since 2009)
Clarence Thomas(since 1991)

Former Justices:
Merrick Garland(nominated 2016)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg(1993-2020)
Anthony Kennedy(1988-2018)
Antonin Scalia(1986-2016)
John Paul Stevens(1975-2010)
David Souter(1990-2009)
Sandra Day O'Connor(1981-2006)
William Rehnquist(1975-2005)

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Page last updated: Mar 21, 2022