Saturday, March 02, 2013John Roberts claimed in oral arguments that Massachusetts registers and turns out the lowest proportion of its black voters of any state. Which would be a fascinating statistic if it were true. Unfortunately a lot of back-of-the-envelope calculations relying on the Current Population Survey get into this sort of trouble. I just wish Roberts would talk to trained social scientists before spouting off about this sort of thing.
Roberts' screwup reminds me of irresistible habit that people who are successful or knowledgeable in one sphere of life have of thinking that they're experts on everything, or that that the specialists in another field are just dumb. But I also want to point out that Roberts' gaffe underscores that many esteemed federal judges really aren't all that smart. I realized this when I read Supreme Court decisions in graduate school and was distinctly underwhelmed. It was incredibly obvious that they were reaching for any convenient justification they could find to support their pre-existing opinions.