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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is alleged to be one of the great intellects of conservative jurisprudence, but his comments during oral arguments over a challenge to the 1965 Voting Rights Act displayed all the mental acuity of a third-tier talk radio bozo.
Shelby County, Ala., is making the case against the voting law. Section 5 of the act empowers the federal government to negate new local and state voting rules if they would lead to discrimination against minority voters. It has been enforced primarily in Southern states that had a long, dismal history of preventing African Americans from voting. Shelby County contends that the problem has been remedied and so Section 5 is no longer justified.
Rep. John Lewis of Georgia begs to differ. Lewis was severely beaten in Selma during the 1965 "Bloody Sunday" police riot directed against peaceful civil rights marchers. The horror of that scene as it played out on America's television screens led directly to congressional approval of the Voting Rights Act.
In an interview with USA Today, Lewis talked about the methods used to bar blacks from voting back in 1965, and insisted that more subtle impediments still are being employed to undercut voting rights today.
"You may not have what we had, such as the literacy tests or asking people to count the number of bubbles in a bar of soap or the number of jelly beans in a jar," Lewis said. "It may not be the overt acts of violence that we had and witnessed during the '60s. But the result is the same."
As recently as 2006, both houses of Congress agreed with Lewis. After extensive testimony, lawmakers determined that a long list of problems still exists and they renewed the Voting Rights Act for an additional 25 years. The vote was overwhelming in the House unanimous in the Senate and was hailed by President George W. Bush as a victory for American democracy.
In court on Wednesday, however, Scalia mocked that vote. He said the Senate’s unanimity simply proved the law had not been given serious consideration. The senators were afraid, he said, to cast a vote against a law with a "wonderful" name. He went on to assert that the reauthorization of the act was merely "a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement."
That sort of legal reasoning may be good enough for someone sitting on a bar stool well into his third pint, but it is not good enough for the highest court in the land. Scalia makes self-serving assumptions about what was on the minds of senators in 2006 -- afraid, not serious, enamored with a name -- with no facts to back up his barbs.
Tossing actual statistics back at Scalia, Justice Elena Kagan cited a string of continued voting-rights violations. As to the state of mind of the senators, she said the unanimous vote was pretty good proof that the evidence of contemporary abuses was convincing, even to conservative Southerners.
"It was clear to 98 senators, including every senator from a covered state, who decided that there was a continuing need for this piece of legislation," Kagan said.
Undeterred, Scalia opined that a law governing voting rights is "not the kind of question you can leave to Congress." Oh, really? The right to vote is the core of our constitutional democracy. It is not, as Scalia says, "a racial entitlement," it is an American entitlement. It seems that might be a very useful thing for Congress to watch over and protect. It was eminently important in 1965 and remains important today.
One need only consider the outrageous voter suppression measures attempted in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and other states in the 2012 election cycle to see that the right to vote is still something certain Americans must fight for. It is true that impediments put in the way of black and Latino voters now are not so much about racial animosity as they are about the fact that those racial groups overwhelmingly vote for Democrats, but the effect, as Lewis says, is the same.
Given the weirdness of his comments, it might not be wrong to assume Scalia's true concern is less about "racial entitlement" than it is about making sure his fellow Republicans are entitled. Entitled, that is, to manipulate elections when they can no longer win fair and square.
Forget Scalia's ridiculous comment about "racial entitlement." Forget that Scalia said that "the Senate’s unanimity simply proved the law had not been given serious consideration" despite 10 months of testimony and over 15,000 pages of evidence. WTF is he talking about with 'Scalia opined that a law governing voting rights is "not the kind of question you can leave to Congress." '? Has Scalia heard of the 15th Amendment. It expressly leaves the question to Congress. Given the 15th Amendment, I cannot see how any Justice can rule this law unconstitutional. If they do, it will be the ultimate judicial activism. They would not only be overruling Congress, as conservatives whined that liberal judges did in the past. They would be overruling an express provision of the Constitution.
That is one strange guy. His rant yesterday was what I would expect from someone posting on a message board.
The fact that Scalia came to the conclusion that The Voting Rights Act equals "racial entitlement" is ridiculous. What the VRA of 1965 does do is ensure that everyone who is entitled to vote and wants to vote is able to do so.
After a 98-0 vote in the Senate, President George W. Bush extended the VRA. I doubt there was this type of uproar made the extension.
This post has been edited 2 times, most recently by cstory80 16 months ago
I agree. There is a lot of nonsense in his rant. However, as I expressed above, his comment about this not being a law that you leave to Congress is the most amazing. The 15th Amendment expressly leaves this type of law to Congress. His comment flies in the face of the express words of the last sentence of the 15th Amendment.
Scalia tends to be one of the judges that believes the constitution should be read and enacted literally. I wonder why he feels the VRA shouldn't be read literally.
This post was edited by cstory80 16 months ago
Exactly. This guy is not playing with a full deck. TERM LIMITS FOR SUPREME COURT APPOINTEES PLEASE!!!!
Join the fight for YOUR liberty!
Judicial activism, eh?
It seems that conservatives like judicial activism when it benefits their side. They like it when conservative courts do it. They only whine about it when liberal courts do it.
Quite. It's a political project: this 'loving the constitution' stuff is baloney.
Most conservatives chanting that do not even understand the Constitution. Liberals do not tend to understand it significantly better, but they do not seem to claim that they do when the don't as often.
This post has been edited 2 times, most recently by Morethanafan 16 months ago
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