The civil rights record of Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. is coming under scrutiny amid evidence that, as a young lawyer, he sought to restrict the Voting Rights Act and to limit laws on sex discrimination, school desegregation and affirmative action.
“I’ve been surprised by what we have seen so far. It suggests a very disturbing and very different picture of Roberts’ record” compared with how President Bush’s nominee was initially portrayed, said Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
Henderson referred to a series of memos Roberts wrote while working in the Reagan administration, as well as Supreme Court briefs he wrote during the presidency of George H.W. Bush.
For example, Roberts said that if Congress gave judges the power to weigh the impact on black voters before approving changes in electoral districts it “would establish a quota system for electoral politics.”
He also described court-ordered busing for school desegregation as a “failed experiment” that should be ended, and said the landmark law against sex bias in schools and colleges should be limited to those university departments that receive federal funds.
“These are not smoking guns, but they do call for looking further,” said Henderson, whose coalition represents 180 national organizations that are concerned with civil rights.
Roberts’ defenders point out he was young then — just 26 years old when he became an assistant to Atty. Gen. William French Smith. They also say it should not be surprising that Roberts agreed with views of senior Reagan administration officials.
“It is not a secret that John Roberts is a political conservative, and it should not surprise people that, when working for a conservative administration, he provided advice that seems to be on the conservative end of the political spectrum,” said Jennifer Braceras, a recent Bush appointee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
The dispute over the Voting Rights Act raged for a time in 1981 and 1982. It did not concern whether blacks would have the right to vote, but whether their votes would translate into political power.