Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Fact-checking the chief justice on voter turnout

NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund attorney Debo Adegbile talks to reporters outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 27, 2013, when he argued in the case Shelby County v. Holder, a legal challenge to a portion of the Voting Rights Act.
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund attorney Debo Adegbile talks to reporters outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 27, 2013, when he argued in the case Shelby County v. Holder, a legal challenge to a portion of the Voting Rights Act.

Chief Justice John Roberts quizzed -- and stumped -- U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. on some deep-in-the-weeds voting statistics during a recent oral argument at the Supreme Court.

In the case before the court, Shelby County, Ala., challenged how the Voting Rights Act determines whether a state or locality needs advance approval from the U.S. Justice Department before it changes any voting laws, regulations or procedures.

The law requires advance approval for Alabama, as well as for five other southern states (Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia) that demonstrated a poor historical record of allowing minorities to vote. Three other states (Alaska, Arizona and Texas) plus a variety of local jurisdictions are also subject to "preclearance." Shelby County argued that these requirements are outdated.

At one point in the oral argument held Feb. 27, 2013, Roberts asked Verrilli, "Do you know which state has the worst ratio of white voter turnout to African-American voter turnout?"

Verrilli, who was defending the law as currently written, responded, "I do not."

Roberts said, "Massachusetts. Do you know what has the best, where African-American turnout actually exceeds white turnout? Mississippi."

We put Roberts' claim to the Truth-O-Meter.