How dare people of color demand free and fair access to voting! Who are they want to exercise their fundamental right to vote without threat of disenfranchisement by partisans looking to suppress Democratic votes!?
That’s basically what Justice Scalia meant when he railed against Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act yesterday during oral arguments deciding the fate of one of the most important civil rights laws in American history.
Well, maybe it was making that judgment, Mr. Verrilli. But that’s — that’s a problem that I have. This Court doesn’t like to get involved in — in racial questions such as this one. It’s something that can be left — left to Congress.
The problem here, however, is suggested by the comment I made earlier, that the initial enactment of this legislation in a — in a time when the need for it was so much more abundantly clear was — in the Senate, there — it was double-digits against it. And that was only a 5-year term.
Then, it is reenacted 5 years later, again for a 5-year term. Double-digits against it in the Senate. Then it was reenacted for 7 years. Single digits against it. Then enacted for 25 years, 8 Senate votes against it. And this last enactment, not a single vote in the Senate against it. And the House is pretty much the same. Now, I don’t think that’s attributable to the fact that it is so much clearer now that we need this. I think it is attributable, very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement. It’s been written about. Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.
Then after saying the VRA doesn’t comport with the Constitution, Justice Scalia went on to criticize the name of the Voting Rights Act because apparently it sounds too “nice” and no one would ever want to vote against it. Maybe someone should remind Justice Scalia about civil liberties disaster that is the Patriot Act or the fact that partisans in Congress have blocked the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act for nearly a year. The idea that members of Congress vote for or against a bill because of the name is ludicrous.
Furthermore, as I wrote in EBONY last week, the VRA is one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation ever passed. It ensures that the states covered by Section 5 don’t enact discriminatory laws which disenfranchise certain communities, which is clearly still a problem based on what we saw during the 2012 election cycle. Section 5 helped block the passage of discriminatory laws in Florida and Texas. The VRA is the foundation of our democracy and for Justice Scalia to not only frame it as an “entitlement” but also to question the necessity of reauthorization proves he’s out to lunch and never coming back.
Everyone deserves equal access and the ability to freely exercise their fundamental right to vote and to imply otherwise, demonstrates Scalia’s unrecognized white male privilege in all it’s glory.