Twenty-five years from now, it is likely that the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture will feature an exhibit where Chief Justice John Roberts is one of the primary villains. Roberts authored the Court’s 2013 decision gutting a major prong of the Voting Rights Act. Just last month, Roberts voted to reinstate North Carolina’s comprehensive voter suppression law, despite the fact that an appeals court found that this law was enacted for the very purpose of keeping black people from the polls.
Nevertheless, only weeks after he voted to allow the most aggressive voter suppression law since Jim Crow to take effect during the upcoming election, Roberts was one of several speakers honoring the opening of the new museum on Saturday — a museum which extensively documents African Americans’ struggle to achieve the rights Roberts voted to take away in the Voting Rights Act decision and several other cases.
The chief justice spoke in his capacity as Chancellor of the Smithsonian, a largely ceremonial position traditionally held by whomever occupies his seat as the nation’s top jurist.
The irony of Roberts’ speech at the Smithsonian’s newest museum is that it is likely that Roberts believes a publicly owned museum focused exclusively on the African American experience is unconstitutional. Roberts believes that the solution to racism is color-blindness, and that virtually any law that acknowledges the existence of race is somehow invidious. That’s why he wrote that two school districts’ plans to desegregate their public schools violated the Constitution. “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race,” Roberts claimed, “is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”
For years, Stephen Colbert played a parody of a conservative TV host. A recurring joke was that Colbert believed that he had achieved true color-blindness. “I don’t see race,” Colbert announced, just minutes after he said that “our system is rigged in favor of African Americans.”
John Roberts — the nation’s leading proponent of the view that racism is largely a problem of America’s past — is the real life version of Colbert’s fictional character. And he sits at the apex of our judiciary.
George Will’s Political Post-Racial Journalism-The Colbert Report — Video Clip | Comedy CentralLUCKILY, LUCKILY, WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST AND VENTRILOQUIST KNOWS WHY OBAMA IS AHEAD, RIGHTING THE NATION WHICH IS…www.cc.comRoberts’ brief speech this weekend was a fairly clear window into the chief justice’s approach to questions of race. He criticized the Supreme Court’s pro-slavery Dred Scott decision, and he labeled the Court’s pro-segregation decision in Plessy v. Fergusson “a test that the Supreme Court would fail.” Roberts is not a white supremacist. He simply is unable to see the way racism continues to harm Americans of color today.
“Our country has changed,” Roberts wrote in Shelby County v. Holder, the case hobbling much of the Voting Rights Act. The fully armed and operational Act, Roberts claimed, relied on “extraordinary measures to address an extraordinary problem.” And now that America’s racial problems are merely ordinary, the law can no longer be justified.
Two hours after Roberts handed down this opinion suggesting that racism really isn’t that big of a deal anymore, Texas’ attorney general announced that it would immediately put into effect two measures intended to reduce the impact of voters of color at the polls. Several other states, including North Carolina, soon followed suit with voter suppression measures of their own.