Bench Memos

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Roberts’s White House Counsel Records--Voluntary School Prayer


In June 1985, the Supreme Court ruled in Wallace v. Jaffree that an Alabama statute that authorized a period of silence in public schools for “meditation or silent prayer” violated the Establishment Clause. On the day of the ruling, John Roberts prepared a memorandum for the White House Counsel that summarized and discussed the ruling. Roberts opined that “careful analysis shows at least a majority of the Justices would vote to uphold a simple moment-of-silence statute.” But “the decision shows we still have an uphill battle to return prayer to schools.”

In November 1985, with the benefit of 5-1/2 months’ time to reflect on Wallace v. Jaffree, Roberts commented that the conclusion in that case “that the Constitution prohibits such a moment of silent reflection—or even silent ‘prayer’—seems indefensible.” Roberts made his comment in the course of discussing a proposed constitutional amendment to permit “silent prayer or reflection in public schools,” an amendment that he expected the Reagan administration to support.


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