Nate Silver Loves Chief Justice Roberts

by Roger Clegg

Well, “love” may be too strong a word, and certainly Mr. Silver tries hard to hide his tender feelings. But his most recent New York Times blog post – most of which is in the hard-copy Times today, and in which he wades into the controversy over the chief justice’s citation of Massachusetts and Mississippi voting-behavior statistics during the Shelby County v. Holder argument last week – seems on balance to support the point the chief justice was making.  Mr. Silver doesn’t conclude that the Chief Justice was wrong in what he suggested about the two states, but then broadens the discussion from Massachusetts and Mississippi to covered and noncovered states generally.  Here’s what he concludes (emphasis in original):

So did Chief Justice Roberts misconstrue the data? If he meant to suggest that states covered by Section 5 consistently have better black turnout rates than those that aren’t covered by the statute, then his claim is especially dubious. However, the evidence does support the more modest claim that black turnout is no worse in states covered by Section 5. There don’t seem to be consistent differences in turnout rates based on whether states are covered by Section 5 or not.

That’s all that’s needed to call into question a key factual premise of Section 5. Yes, as Mr. Silver then continues, there are other issues that the case raises that this fact does not settle — the causes of the changes in voting behavior in covered jurisdictions and what might happen if Section 5 is struck down – but nobody, and certainly not the chief justice, ever said otherwise, and the fact that there are other questions doesn’t diminish the importance of the answered one.

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