Galvin: On Mass. Racial Voting Gap, Chief Justice Roberts Is Wrong

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Secretary of State William Galvin says comments from U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts on a racial voting gap in Massachusetts are "simply wrong."

Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, left, is pictured in 2007. Chief Justice John Roberts, right, is seen during a group portrait at the Supreme Court Building in 2010. (AP)
William Galvin, left, is pictured in 2007. Chief Justice John Roberts, right, is seen during a Supreme Court portrait session in 2010. (AP)

Roberts made the statements as the high court heard arguments over the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Roberts asked U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verilli if he knew which state has the worst ratio of white voter turnout to African-American voter turnout. Roberts said it was Massachusetts. Roberts later said Massachusetts also had the greatest disparity in registration.

Galvin, who oversees elections, told The Boston Globe that Roberts was wrong and called his comments a “cheap shot.”

A Supreme Court spokeswoman refused to offer supporting evidence of Roberts' comments.

Galvin then joined WBUR's Morning Edition on Friday to discuss Roberts' comments.

Galvin: I'm disturbed, first of all, that he is distorting information. You would expect better conduct from the chief justice of the United States. I'm a lawyer, he's a lawyer, lawyers are not supposed to provide disinformation in the course of a case. It's supposed to be based on truth.

What's really distressing is the deeper we looked into the facts, the more of a distortion his comments are. The only reference that we can find of any kind in any statistical chart is a Census Bureau study from 2010 where, if you included non-citizen blacks, then you would come up with a lower number. That's the only way he could get to even make the bare-face claim that he made.

Bob Oakes: All right, so let's break this down in a couple of ways. You think then that Roberts is using old or faulty data?

Well, it's faulty. The data itself, first of all, is a poll, but even in the poll — the one that he appears to be relying upon — if you look at the figures relating to citizen blacks in Massachusetts, the claim does not hold up. The only way you can get the claim that he is making — namely, the worst record — is if you include non-citizen blacks. Now this is a judge who has consistently voted for voter IDs. So one assumes that he understands that non-citizens are not eligible to vote. So that makes the assertion even more disturbing because knowing what we assume he knows, to try to take advantage of a clearly erroneous data is wrong, it's deceptive, and it's a slur on black voters in Massachusetts.

When you look at Roberts' quotation, which appears in The Boston Globe Friday, it says, "Do you know which state has the worst ratio of white voter turnout to African-American voter turnout? Massachusetts." You're saying that's just plain wrong?

It is wrong. There's not a question about it. And if you look at the statistics for the years 2012, 2008 and including 2010, which is what we assume he's referring to, it's simply wrong.

How do the 2012 results, which are the most recent, of course, help your argument?

Well, we don't have the same poll yet taken by the Census Bureau, but we know basically on the turnouts that we can look at in predominantly minority areas that the turnout was extremely high. It ran very close to the statewide levels as well. It's ironic that in 2006, which is one of the years of course the judge didn't bother to cite, my problem in Boston wasn't a slow black turnout, it was that in some of the minority precincts Boston failed to deliver enough ballots so that they ran out. So the whole premise here that somehow black voters in Massachusetts are negligent, they don't turnout and in Mississippi they're so much better is absurd.

Do you think he's just made a mistake or do you think he's intentionally trying to influence this case before the Supreme Court on the Voting Rights Act?

Well, first of all, I don't know if he — let's give him the best hope here that he made a mistake. Well, you don't deliver a statement in the doctrinaire way he did if you have any doubt about your data. He didn't say to the attorney representing the Justice Department defending the Voting Rights Act, "Can you give me any statistics or how does it compare?" He delivered the doctrinaire conclusion. So that lessens my belief that it was a mistake.

Secondly, if you read the chart, right next to the non-citizen number that he appears to be relying upon, is the citizen number which obviously has Massachusetts with a much higher rate of participation. It's right there, in black and white, so it would be very hard to miss. I'm very distressed.

I'm also cognizant of the fact that one of his colleagues who is a supporter generally speaking of the Voting Rights Act, Justice Breyer, is a Massachusetts resident. Another of his colleagues, Justice Kagan, is a former dean of Harvard Law School. I have to mention that because therefore two of the justices that are sitting on this case that appear to be on the opposite side from him have deep Massachusetts connections.

I'm also aware of the fact that when it comes to the national right-wing bashing, Massachusetts is a favorite target. The judge has the right to his point of view — obviously I don't agree with it. But he has the right to his point of view, and he has the right to make an argument that remedial action is not necessary, which appears to be the underlining argument that he is making. He has the right to do that, but he doesn't have the right to distort the facts and he doesn't have the right to cast a slur on the black citizens of Massachusetts who do to vote.

Would you ask the chief justice, or demand from the chief justice, a correction? And I ask because in The Boston Globe Friday, a Supreme Court spokeswomen "declined to offer supporting evidence of ­Roberts’s view, referring a ­reporter to the court transcript." Do you think he should issue a correction?

I think he should definitely issue some sort of statement. He can do that numerous ways. He is the chief justice of the United States; presumably he can offer a footnote, he can offer whatever he is going to do. But I don't think he ought to leave this uncorrected on the record. He either offer proof of his assertion, or he ought to apologize — it's one or the other. You can't have it both ways, even if you're the chief justice of the United States.

News text atop the post from The Associated Press; transcript from the WBUR Newsroom

This article was originally published on March 01, 2013.

This program aired on March 1, 2013.


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