Roberts Helped to Shape 80's Civil Rights Debate





He produced a torrent of memorandums explaining why the Reagan administration was right to oppose new provisions in the Voting Rights Act that had just passed the House with an overwhelming majority.

He drafted op-ed articles for his boss, Attorney General William French Smith, and he circulated talking points warning that Congress - by trying to make it easier to prove voting rights violations - was on the verge of creating "a quota system for electoral politics." He scribbled angry notes on newspaper articles that showed an official from another department was veering off-message.

It was 1981 and John G. Roberts Jr. was 26, two years out of Harvard Law School and an eager combatant in the political wars - including the one over the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was up for renewal in Congress. In general, he wrote to one of his mentors after three months on the job: "This is an exciting time to be at the Justice Department. So much that has been taken for granted for so long is being seriously reconsidered."

With his position as a special assistant to the attorney general, Mr. Roberts became engaged in one of the most bitterly divisive struggles of the Reagan revolution - the effort to develop a new, more conservative approach to civil rights and voting rights, according to documents released by the National Archives.

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