Oral 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:
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.
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.