Senator Kennedy engaged Judge Roberts on the Voting Rights Act. The text is "below the fold." (From the AP transcript of the hearings.)
KENNEDY: If we could move on. Now, the Brown decision was just the beginning of the historic march for progress toward equal rights for all of our citizens.
In the '60s and '70s, we came together as a Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, and passed the historic civil rights legislation that signed by the president to guarantee equality for all citizens on the basis of race, then on gender, then on disability.
We passed legislation to eliminate the barriers to voting that so many minorities had faced in too many states in the country. We passed legislation that prevented racial discrimination in housing.
Those landmark laws were supported by Republicans and Democrats in Congress and they were signed into law by both Republican and Democratic presidents.
Intelligent and dedicated attorneys in the Justice Department and in the White House and on Capitol Hill devoted their extraordinary talents and imagination and perseverance to making these laws effective.
Every one of the new laws was tested in court, all the way to the Supreme Court.
And I'd like to find out, Judge Roberts, whether you'd agree that the progress we made in civil rights over the past 50 years is irreversible.
I'd like to find out whether you think that these laws are constitutional or whether you have any concerns or questions about them.
Do you have any concerns or reservations about the constitutionality of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that outlawed racial discrimination in public accommodations, employment and other areas?
ROBERTS: I don't think any issue has been raised concerning those.
I'm cautious, of course, about expressing an opinion on a matter that might come before the court. I don't think that's one that's likely to come before the court.
So I'm not aware of any questions that have been raised concerning that, Senator.
KENNEDY: So I'll assume that you don't feel that there are any doubts on the constitutionality of the '64 act. Do you have any doubts as to the constitutionality of the '65 Voting Rights Act?
ROBERTS: Well, now, that's an issue, of course, as you know, it's up for renewal. And that is a question that could come before the court: the question of Congress' power.
Again, without expressing any views on it, I do know that it's going to be...
KENNEDY: Well, that's gone up and down the Supreme Court -- the 1965 act and again the 1982 act extension.
ROBERTS: Yes, and the issue would be...
KENNEDY: I'm just trying to find out, on the Voting Rights Act, whether you have any problem at all and trouble at all in terms of the constitutionality of the existing Voting Rights Act that was extended by the Congress.
ROBERTS: Oh. Well, the existing Voting Rights Act: the constitutionality has been upheld. And I don't have any issue with that.
ROBERTS: There's a separate question that would be raised if the Voting Rights Act were extended, as I know Congress is considering. And those arguments have been raised about whether or not particular provisions should be extended or should not be extended.
And since those questions might well come before the court, I do need to exercise caution on that.
KENNEDY: But with regards to the act that we passed, the bipartisan act -- I'm going to come back to it -- and about your position on the 1982 act -- I know you had concerns and I'm going to come back to those -- but you're not suggesting that there's any constitutional issue with that.
ROBERTS: Well, I'm not aware of any constitutional issue that's been raised about it.
KENNEDY: All right.
ROBERTS: Again, I don't want to express conclusions on hypothetical questions, whether as applied in a particular case, where there would be a challenge in that respect. Those cases come up all the time and I do need to avoid expressing an opinion on those issues.
KENNEDY: Well, it seems that on voting rights, with all of its importance and significance, and with the extraordinary bipartisan balance that came together on that act -- I'm going to come back to it; I know you had some reservations about it, which we will come to -- but that, as I am wondering whether you are hesitant at all in saying that you believe that it's constitutional.
ROBERTS: My hesitancy, Senator, is simply this: that cases do come up. I had one in the D.C. Circuit concerning issues under the Voting Rights Acts. And I don't know what arguments parties will be raising in those cases.
So an abstract question you need to know, obviously, what's the claim, what's the issue, and decide it according to the rule of law.
KENNEDY: How about the constitutionality of the '68 fair housing legislation that outlawed racial discrimination in housing?
ROBERTS: Again, I think -- my understanding is it's been upheld. And I'm not aware of any issues that are arising under it.
I suppose if there's a particular claim presented under that statute, litigants make all sorts of arguments, and they may raise an argument that it's unconstitutional as applied in a particular case, and the court would have to decide that question.
KENNEDY: Well, I was, sort of, inhaling your answer to my friend Orrin Hatch about the power of the legislature and the deference that you're going to give when the legislature makes judgments and findings, particularly in the areas of voting that we spend such an extraordinary amount of time -- the chairman was so involved in that legislation.
Let's go to the Voting Rights Act. As you know, we've had a chance to go through many of the documents that you authored during the early and mid-1980s when you worked in the Department of Justice and in the White House.
I'm interested in your views today, let me point out, but because we don't have all the documents that we'd like to have, I'm working with the documents that we do. And I want to go through those, get your reactions and ask your views today. I'm deeply troubled by a narrow and cramped and perhaps even a mean-spirited view of the law that appears in some of your writings.
In the only documents that have been made available to us, it appears that you did not fully appreciate the problem of discrimination in our society. It also seems that you were trying to undo the progress that so many people had fought for and died for in this country.
At the outset, I want to be clear that I do not think nor am I suggesting that you're a person who's in favor of discrimination. I don't believe that.
I am concerned, however, that at the time you were writing these laws and memoranda and notes, you simply did not grasp the seriousness of the impact of discrimination on our country as a whole.
Let's start with the Voting Rights Act.
Most Americans think that the right to vote is among the most important tools that they have to participate in our democracy. You do agree, don't you, don't you, Judge Roberts, that the right to vote is a fundamental constitutional right?
ROBERTS: It is preservative, I think, of all the other rights.
Without access to the ballot box, people are not in the position to protect any other rights that are important to them. And so I think it's one of, as you said, the most precious rights we have as Americans.
KENNEDY: And you will recall that in the '60s, millions of our fellow citizens denied access to voting booths because of race. And to remedy that injustice, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of '65 that outlawed discrimination in voting.
Section 2 of that act is widely believed to be the most effective civil rights statute enacted by Congress.
In 1982, Congress took action to extend the Voting Rights Act and to make it clear that discriminatory voting practices and procedures are illegal if they are intended to be racially discriminatory or if they are shown to have a racially discriminatory impact.
It was this latter provision, the prohibition against voting practices that have a discriminatory impact, that provoked your heated opposition, Judge Roberts.
In our earlier discussion of Brown v. Board of Education, you agreed that the actual impact of racial segregation on public education and school children was perfectly valid for the court to consider. But when it came to voting rights, you rejected the consideration of actual impact.
You wrote that violations of Section II of the Voting Rights Act, and I quote, should not be made too easy to prove since they provide a basis for the most intrusive interference imaginable by federal courts, interstate and local processors.
You also wrote, and I quote, It would be difficult to conceive of a more drastic alteration of local government affairs. And, under our federal system, such an intrusion should not be too readily permitted.
And you didn't stop there. You concluded that Section II of the Voting Rights Act was, quote, constitutionally suspect and contrary to the most fundamental tenets of the legislative process on which the laws of this country are based.
So I am deeply troubled by another statement that you made at the time.
And I quote, There is no evidence of voting abuses nationwide supporting the need for such a change.
No evidence? I was there, Judge Roberts, in both the House and the Senate, had the extensive hearings. We considered details, specific testimony from affected voters throughout the country. But you dismissed the work of Congress out of hand.
Don't be fooled, you wrote, by the House vote or the 61 Senate sponsors of the bill. Many members of the House did not know that they were doing more than simply extending the act and several of the 61 senators have already indicated they only intended to support a simple extension.
Judge Roberts, Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly supported this legislation. But you thought we didn't really know what we were doing.
Newt Gingrich, James Sensenbrenner voted for the House bill. Dan Quayle was an original Senate co-sponsor of the bill. We held extensive hearings, created a lengthy record. Yet, you thought there was no evidence of voting abuses that would justify the legislation -- your comment.
Do you believe today that we need the federal laws to assure that all our citizens have the equal access to the voting booth and do you basically support the 1982 Voting Rights Act that was signed by...
ROBERTS: Senator, you will recall, at the time -- this was 23 years ago -- I was the staff lawyer in the Justice Department. 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.
The Supreme Court had interpreted in the Mobile v. Bolden case, Section 2, to have an intent test, not an effects test.
Keep in mind, of course, as you know very well, Section 5, the preclearance provision, had always had an effects test and that would be continued.
The reference to discrimination nationwide was addressing the particular point that effects test had been applied in particular jurisdictions that had a history of discrimination. And the question is whether or not there was a similar history of discrimination that supported extending the effects test in Section 2.
It was the position of the administration for which I worked that the proposal was to extend the Voting Rights Act without change. Your position at the time was that the intent test that the Supreme Court had determined was in Section 2 should be changed to the effects test, and that was the position that eventually prevailed.
There was no disagreement...
KENNEDY: Judge Roberts, the effects test was the law of the land from the Zimmer case to the Mobile case. It was the law of the land. That was the law of the land that court after court decided about the impact of the effects test. The Mobile case changed the Zimmer case.
ROBERTS: Well, Senator, you disagree...
KENNEDY: And what we were...
SPECTER: Let him finish his answer.
KENNEDY: OK. Well, I'd just like to get his -- whether the Zimmer case was not the holding on the rule of the law of the land prior to the Mobile case.
ROBERTS: Well, this is the same debate that took place 23 years ago on this very same issue. And the administration's position -- you think the Supreme Court got it wrong in Mobile against Bolden.
KENNEDY: No, that's not what -- I think it was wrong, but I also think the law of the land, decided by the Supreme Court in the Zimmer case, upheld in court after court after court after court, was the effects test.
ROBERTS: Well, the Supreme Court...
SPECTER: Let him finish his answer, Senator Kennedy.
ROBERTS: The point is -- and, again, this is revisiting a debate that took place 23 years ago...
KENNEDY: Well, I'm interested today of your view. Do you support the law that Ronald Reagan signed into law and that was co- sponsored...
KENNEDY: ... overwhelmingly...
ROBERTS: Certainly, and the only point I would make -- this was the same disagreement and the same debate that took place then over whether the court was right or wrong in Mobile v. Bolden.
And the point I would make is twofold, that those, like President Reagan, like Attorney General Smith, who are advocating an extension of the Voting Rights Act without change, were as fully committed to protecting the right to vote as anyone.
KENNEDY: Right. Could I...
SPECTER: Let him finish his answer, Senator Kennedy.
ROBERTS: And the articulation of views that you read from represented my effort to articulate the views of the administration and the position of the administration for whom I worked, for which I worked 23 years ago.
KENNEDY: Well, after President Reagan signed it into law, did you agree with that position of the administration?
ROBERTS: I certainly agreed that the Voting Rights Act should be extended. I certainly agreed that the effects test in Section 5 should be extended.
We had argued that the intent test, that the Supreme Court recognized in Mobile against Bolden -- I know you think it was wrong, but that was the Supreme Court's interpretation -- should have been extended. Again, as you said, the compromise that you and Senator Dole worked out was enacted into law and signed into law by President Reagan. And the Voting Rights Act has continued to be an important legislative tool to ensure that most precious of rights, which is preservative of all other rights. There was never any dispute about that basic proposition.
KENNEDY: Well, what I'm getting to is, after it was signed into law, overwhelmingly -- overwhelmingly by the House and the Senate -- we have the memoranda that you said the fact we were burned last year -- this is the following year -- we did not -- the fact we were burned last year because we did not sail in with the new voting rights legislation does not mean we'll be hurt this year if we go slowly on housing legislation.
What did you mean when you said that we were burned last year by not getting the Voting Rights Act?
ROBERTS: I think the legislative debate between those who favored extending the Voting Rights Act as is and those who favored changing the act because they disagreed with the Supreme Court decisions, the legislative judgment was that the administration's proposal didn't succeed because they had waited. Rather than coming out in favor of an extension right away, they waited for the Congress to come up with its proposals which turned out to be different than the administration proposals.
On the housing discrimination, I would note that the administration did get its ducks in a row and, in a matter of months after the date of the memo that you just read from, had its housing proposal there and submitted to Congress and it was enacted.
KENNEDY: The 1988 Housing Fair Housing Act.