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Voting rights foe John Roberts could be writing the next voting rights ruling

It might also be Clarence Thomas, which wouldn’t bode well for elections, either.


We’re at the point in the Supreme Court term where dread mounts ahead of each decision day before the term wraps up with a blast of retrograde rulings, usually in late June. Adding to the dread is not knowing which opinions are coming ahead of time, or who’s writing them. But we can now point to two potentially likely authors of the term’s monumental ruling on voting rights — and neither bodes well for elections.

To understand how we can narrow this down, here’s a trick to watching the court’s rulings unfold. The justices have an unofficial rule of trying to have each of them write an opinion for each month’s arguments. From October through April, every month’s two-week sitting produces about one ruling per justice. Neat.

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After Thursday’s decision gutting the Clean Water Act, authored by Samuel Alito, there’s just one appeal undecided that was argued in October’s eight-case sitting: the Milligan case from Alabama, where Voting Rights Act protections are on the line.

And the only two justices who haven’t written opinions from that sitting? That would be Chief Justice John Roberts and America’s favorite private jet aficionado, Justice Clarence Thomas.

Both men are more than capable of writing terrible opinions on the subject (as is Alito, to be sure). But it’s important to remember that Roberts is not a relative moderate on voting rights. While the GOP’s decadeslong project of stacking the court amazingly puts Roberts to the left of his harder-right colleagues — look at Dobbs, where he didn’t join the other five Republican appointees to overrule Roe v. Wade — he’s a longtime foe of the Voting Rights Act. Indeed, his legacy-defining opinion might be Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted a key part of the act in 2013.

As you read this, Roberts may be putting the finishing touches on a ruling that continues that legacy.