Scalia Scorns Congress, and Voting Rights Act

On Wednesday, Justice Antonin Scalia was at his most intemperate.

He ripped into Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which requires state and local governments that have had a history of racial discrimination to “pre-clear” with the Justice Department any election law changes.

Scalia called that the “perpetuation of racial entitlement,” a phrase that seemed to raise the ire of Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Wednesday. She asked the attorney challenging Section 5 whether he thought it amounted to the “perpetuation of racial entitlement,” and he refused to cop to that.

Scalia also mocked the very title of the law.

“Even the name of it is wonderful — the Voting Rights Act,” he said. “Who is going to vote against that in the future?”

And he did so to argue that Congress was incapable of coming to its senses on this issue.

“I don’t think there is anything to be gained by any Senator to vote against continuation of this act,” Scalia said. “They are going to lose votes if they do not reenact the Voting Rights Act. “

Congress last renewed the law in 2006, and it did so for 25 more years. The vote was 99-0 in the Senate and 390-33 in the House.

The overwhelming will of the people to end discrimination in voting, as expressed by their elected officials, was not of concern to Scalia on Wednesday. He scaled the heights of arrogance to levels he hasn’t reach before.

As Media Matters has noted, he used to give some credence to Congress on these issues: “Even for antidiscrimination statutes that Scalia feels produce ‘puzzling results,’ Scalia held in the 2010 civil rights case of Lewis v. Chicago that ‘it is not our task to assess the consequences of each approach and adopt the one that produces the least mischief. Our charge is to give effect to the law Congress enacted...If that effect was unintended, it is a problem for Congress, not one that federal courts can fix.’ ”

Now Scalia evidently thinks he can fix everything himself. And “fix” is the right word, since Republicans around the country are trying to fix elections via gerrymandering and Voter ID laws and a whole host of other gimmickry.

By tossing out Section 5, the Supreme Court would put the fix in.

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "The Supreme Court’s Push to Lift Campaign Limits."

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