In an earlier post, I wrote about the Supreme Court hearing a case on the Constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Back in November I worried about what this court would do to gut the VRA. Unfortunately, my fears are starting to be realized. At least they are according to the oral argument portion of the case thus far. To catch everyone up, the VRA makes it illegal for states to institute discriminatory practices in the voting process. Practices designed to suppress the vote of minorities like polls taxes, literacy tests, etc. Section Five of the law prohibits specific states and counties with particularly bad records on these issues from making any changes to election practices without first getting pre-clearance from the Federal government. Lo and behold, the majority of those states are in the South, which is a major source of contention among conservative justices.
General, is it — is it the government’s submission that the citizens in the South are more racist than citizens in the North?
The fact that he has to ask that question is so very telling. Well consider this my amicus blog. First of all, when Congress singled out the particular states and counties in Section Five they didn’t do it to be mean to the South. Section Five covers more than just the South. It also covers the state of Alaska and specific counties in California, Florida, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota, and some communities in Michigan and New Hampshire. The reason that there are more southern states than any other is because the South became synonymous with disenfranchising black people. There is a demonstrated history of racial discrimination there. And it’s not all from generations ago. There’s recent history as well. Apparently, the Chief Justice is unaware of Jim Crow laws. Is the South more racist than the North? Well, a recent poll conducted last year showed that 21% of Alabamans and 29% of Mississippians thought that interracial marriage should be illegal. Speaking of Mississippi, they just got around to ratifying the 13th Amendment in February of 2013. That would be the amendment that outlawed slavery. No worries, folks, it’s only about a century and a half late. So to answer the Chief Justice’s question: OF FUCKING COURSE! This is not the position of the Federal government. It’s the position of reality.
Does that mean that there aren’t racists in the North? Of course not. There are racists aplenty in this neck of the woods. People like Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who was born in New Jersey. Here’s Justice Scalia’s take on Section Five of the Voting Rights Act, which bring us back to the title of this blog post:
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…
That’s the — that’s the concern that those of us who — who have some questions about this statute have. It’s — it’s a concern that this is not the kind of a question you can leave to Congress. There are certain districts in the House that are black districts by law just about now.
“Perpetuation of racial entitlement,” Jesus! How racist do you have to be to even suggest that minorities not only having the same rights as everyone else, but also having actual access to those rights, is a bad thing? Again we always seem to get a strange sense that’s life is so much easier if you’re a minority. Remember when Mitt Romney quipped how much better his Presidential chances would be if only he were Mexican? I’m sure all of our hearts go out to him each and every day. But numerous ironies abound in this case. Justice Scalia’s description of the Voting Rights Act actually illustrate why we should extend the law to even more states and counties rather than strike down key portions of the law. And Shelby County, Alabama, which filed the original challenge to the Voting Rights Act, just violated that same law a few years ago. So one of the most recent violators of the law wants us to trust them that there will be no further problems or voting shenanigans. This must be what it feels like to live in an episode of the Twilight Zone. A point that Justice Sotomayor put rather succinctly:
Assuming I accept your premise, and there’s some question about that, that some portions of the South have changed, your county pretty much hasn’t.
In — in the period we’re talking about, it has many more discriminating -240 discriminatory voting laws that were blocked by Section 5 objections.
There were numerous remedied by Section 2 litigation. You may be the wrong party bringing this.
Now here’s Mr. Rein’s response. Notice how he avoids the entire argument about how specifically discriminatory the county he represents, Shelby, Alabama, has been and moves on to the tried and true defense versus racism.
If you look at Alabama, it has a number of black legislators proportionate to the black population of Alabama.
Ah yes, the counting defense aka the modified Shaquan Defense. When in doubt, simply fight off charges of racism by listing the brown people you know. Alabama can’t be racist. We have black people in government for God sakes. For those of you who don’t remember the origin of the Shaquan Defense (see the link above), it was used most recently by a Republican politician in Maine who after saying something really racist (several things actually), later remarked that he couldn’t be racist because he plays basketball with a black guy. The Shaquan Defense is actually ironic for two reasons:
- It tends to prove the exact opposite point you’re trying to make, &
- Shaquan is notoriously known for his half-hearted defense. He’s is an offensive superstar, though.
Yes, things are better now than back in 1965. But the Voting Rights Act has been and continues to be essential in protecting the right to vote. Sadly, some communities need more protection than others. Particularly when the voices of specific groups are consistently targeted for suppression. That’s why in 2006 after 21 hearings, investigating more than 15,000 pages of information and ten months of debate on whether it was still necessary, Congress voted to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act for another 25 years. The vote passed 390-33 in the House and 98-0 in the Senate. It was the definition of non-controversial and quickly signed into law by President Bush.
Among those who voted for the bill in 2006 were two Republican Senators from Alabama. Now Justice Scalia would have you believe the Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama was worried about losing future elections if he didn’t back the VRA. To that I say, you don’t know Jeff Sessions. To put it mildly, this isn’t a man who worries about losing votes because of racial insensitivity. If you use the search terms “racist” and “Jeff Sessions” you’ll be reading for quite a while.
It’s unfortunate that the cornerstone to civil rights looks like it’s going to be struck down. Not because it’s no longer necessary, but because conservative judges don’t like the idea of the Federal Government protecting certain people’s rights at the expense of other people’s bigotry. It’s just too bad we aren’t corporations.
Categories: Politics Fix