THE SUPREME COURT JUSTICES
As on Bench, Voting Styles Are Personal
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
You won't find Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. on the list of registered voters in Montgomery County, where he lives, but that doesn't mean he has given up his franchise.
Extending the private world of the Supreme Court just a bit, Roberts is a Maryland "confidential voter."
That means that, unlike other voters, he is not required to make his home address, birth date, party affiliation and history of participation available to the public, according to Marjorie Roher, public information officer for Montgomery County's elections board. Roher said she is allowed to confirm the names of confidential voters when asked.
Roberts and his wife, Jane, are two of only 33 people among Montgomery County's half a million voters who have used this little-known exception in Maryland's public records law.
Roher couldn't say when Roberts applied for confidential status because she is not authorized to see the records. But a court spokeswoman said that the chief justice made the move after he was confirmed in 2005, at the suggestion of court personnel concerned about security.
Roberts and his fellow justices appear to regularly exercise what one advocate before them this year called "our most fundamental right." (One of Roberts's famously self-deprecating stories is about how one voter at his polling place in 2006 told him that he should be glad he wasn't on the ballot.) The Supreme Court's docket for this term is filled with cases involving voting and elections, including one that deals with whether Indiana's requirement that voters present a government-issued photo identification is an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote.
At least six of the nine justices are eligible to vote in today's primaries in Maryland, Virginia and the District, though public records show that most have voted only in general elections in recent years.
Two exceptions are Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, who come close to the "serial voter" status prized by political operatives.
Ginsburg, a registered Democrat in the District, regularly votes in primaries, even casting an absentee ballot in the 2006 midterm contest.
The same is true for Scalia. Even though Virginia voters don't register by party, public records show that he took part in the state's 2005 Republican primary, as he has done in previous GOP contests. (Court regulars remember Scalia questioning the "loyalty oath" once required of Republican primary voters and being assured by a poll worker that it was perfectly legal.) Four other justices are Virginians -- including new resident Samuel A. Alito Jr. -- and do not state a party preference. Clarence Thomas and Anthony M. Kennedy live in Fairfax County and have voted in the past three general elections. (Scalia and Kennedy vote in the same precinct.) John Paul Stevens is a consistent general-election voter in Arlington.
Two justices still vote back home. David H. Souter, a member of the court for nearly 18 years, votes in presidential elections by absentee ballot, said Evelyn Connor, town clerk in Weare, N.H. Souter, a registered Republican, did not take part in New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation presidential primary this year, she said, but he did vote in the 2006 general election.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer is a registered Democrat in Cambridge, Mass., and regularly votes in state and federal elections, records show. He cast an absentee ballot in last week's Democratic primary there.
Most states have public voting records, although some make accommodations for law enforcement officials. Maryland's exemption requires an applicant to fill out a state form and present it to the local elections board, which decides whether to grant confidential status. Roher said it is most often granted to judges and law enforcement officials who don't want their home addresses in the public record.
Virginia allows the home-address exception for some law enforcement personnel, said Fairfax County election manager Judy Flaig, but there are no confidential voters. "We have lots of important people who live in Fairfax County and have their names in the books like everybody else," she said.
Don't look for Roberts at his polling place today. The chief justice said through court spokeswoman Kathleen Arberg that he votes only in general elections.
Staff writer Michael Laris contributed to this report.