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Voting Rights Challenge At SCOTUS

supreme courtOral arguments before the Supreme Court on the challenge to the 1965 Voting Rights act were heard Wednesday. Often, during the arguments observers try to discern which way a justice is leaning based on the question they ask and how they are delivered. Wednesday, there didn’t seem to be much question how Justice Antonin Scalia was leaning on the Voting Rights Act:

“His inflammatory claim that the Voting Rights Act is a “perpetuation of racial entitlement” came close to the end of a long statement on why he found a landmark law preventing race discrimination in voting to be suspicious.”


Looks like Scalia is pretty well leaning on taking the country back to at least the 1950s – maybe further – nevermind that 15th amendment thing:

AMENDMENT XV

SECTION 1.

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

SECTION 2.

The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Scalia uses the word we see the extreme right bring out quite frequently “entitlement.” For some reason, Justice Scalia seems to think that exercising your basic right as a full citizen is a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” Implied in there is that those of the majority do not need to be “entitled” to vote.

Where else have we heard the word “entitled?” Like many words that the extreme right uses “entitled” is a word that conjures up images that the right has attached to it over the years. “Entitled” has come to mean a person or group getting extra priveleges because of a special situation. We have been conditioned as a society to think of welfare recipients being “entitled.” People laying around the house just waiting for the welfare check.

That has probably been the basic image that has been associated with “entitled.” Thus whenever the word is pulled out for use at whatever special situation the extreme right wants to taint, those are the false images that are in the background. Recently we have heard of gay people expecting to be “entitled” when they ask that their relationships can lead to marriage.

Also recently we hear of Social Security and Medicare being referred to as “entitlements” thus implying that whoever is receiving the benefit did nothing to deserve them. And of course any part of the social safety net is referred to as an “entitlement.” The most recent example I have heard is Medicaid recipients denigraded as using “entitlements.”

Antonin Scalia is often called “the intellectual conservative.” He is not a dumb person, so the choice of the word “entitlement” was not an accident. He used it to evoke a response. My guess is he used it to evoke a response from his extreme right wing brethren on the Court that the Voting Rights Act is to be scorned by them just as any piece of legislation that aids all people to equality under the law.

3 Responses to “Voting Rights Challenge At SCOTUS”

  • Donna VanZandt:

    This will probably be deleted because most of my comments are. The irony of the entire case is the amount of time spent just a few years ago by the elected house and senate deciding and voting on this exact issue-thousands of pages. It is a slap in the face to elected congressional members they took the case at all. Secondly the very county which brought the suit had blatant gerrymandering a short while ago to rid themselves of a Black elected person they did not want. Every voting district after toeing the mark for a few years can remove themselves from the list. Sadly this Alabama area can’t keep themselves on track long enough to do that. Why would the SC choose this case? It is voter supression by the very body which should be protecting the vote.

  • Quite a bit is being made — starting with Justice Sotomayor at the oral argument — of Justice Scalia’s statement that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is likely to be reauthorized by Congress in perpetuity because that’s the way it is with all “racial entitlement” programs. The transcript of the oral argument is available here: http://www.scotusblog.com/2013/02/todays-transcripts-153/ – Justice Scalia’s statement is on page 47, and Justice Sotomayor’s reaction to it on page 63.

    Pace Justice Sotomayor, I don’t think that Justice Scalia meant that the “right to vote” is a racial entitlement — duh. Rather, I think he was adverting to the fact that Section 5 guarantees not just nondiscrimination but, in key respects, special treatment on the basis of race. The most obvious is the creation and maintenance of racially identifiable districts — indeed, the principal use of Section 5 these days is to ensure this sort of racial gerrymandering and segregation, as Joshua Thompson and I discussed in a Bench Memos post earlier this week:
    http://www.nationalreview.com/bench-memos/341443/two-points-ishelby-county-v-holderi-roger-clegg

    More generally, as we also discussed, the combination of a preclearance requirement and an “effects” test guarantees that voting practices that have a racially disproportionate effect will be blocked, even if they further legitimate ends and are nondiscriminatory by their terms, in their intent, and in their application. All of this is fairly described as “racial entitlement.”

  • Dead on! This comment is further proof that the right is willing to pull racist maneuvers if it would give them a better chance at winning elections. Their opprobrious attacks on all entitlements must come from a place of hate or acknowledgment that they are losing the core support in America.

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