Chief Justice John Roberts calls data on gerrymandering ‘sociological gobbledygook.’ Sociology fires back

When you come for the social sciences, you’d better come correct. That’s what the president of the American Sociological Association telegraphed to U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts this week, in response to Roberts’s recent reference to social science data as “sociological gobbledygook.”

In an era when “facts are often dismissed as ‘fake news,’ we are particularly concerned about a person of your stature suggesting to the public that scientific measurement is not valid or reliable and that expertise should not be trusted,” Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, president of the association and a professor of sociology at Duke University, wrote to Roberts in an open letter. “What you call ‘gobbledygook’ is rigorous and empirical.”

Roberts’s jab at sociology came during Oct. 3 oral arguments in the high-court case Gill v. Whitford, which relates to partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin. Paul M. Smith, a lawyer for the appellees, a group of state Democrats opposed to what they deem to be excessively partisan drawing of electoral districts, argued that “this is a cusp of a really serious, more serious problem as gerrymandering becomes more sophisticated with computers and data analytics and a — and an electorate that’s very polarized and more predictable than it’s ever been before.”

Smith added, “If you let this go, if you say this is — we’re not going to have a judicial remedy for this problem; in 2020, you’re going to have a festival of copycat gerrymandering the likes of which this country has never seen.”

In his eventual reply, Roberts said that “the whole point is you’re taking these issues away from democracy and you’re throwing them into the courts pursuant to, and it may be simply my educational background, but I can only describe as sociological gobbledygook.”

Later, Justice Stephen Breyer echoed Roberts when he asked, “Can you answer the chief justice’s question and say the reason they lost is because if…

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