A gasp was noticeable in the Supreme Court Chambers Wednesday during the hearing on the Voting Rights Act. Supreme Court Justice Antonin “James Crow” Scalia said that the Voting Rights Act was perpetuating a "racial entitlement.” Justice Scalia must believe that for minorities, voting is an entitlement not a right. He is taking us back to the 1950’s.
Listening to the Justices in the nation’s highest court Wednesday, it appears likely that the Supreme Court might overturn the Voting Rights Act despite the fact the Supreme Court had previously found it constitutional.
What’s next for Scalia, overturning the 15th Amendment? Is the 19th amendment a “gender entitlement” in his eyes as well?
Voting Rights extended 3 times by Congress
The Voting Rights Act has been extended three times by Congress. It was most recently extended for 25 years by a Republican Congress in 2006. The Senate voted unanimously and the House voted overwhelmingly to keep the act in place. President George Bush signed it into law.
Congress did not extend the Act on a whim. There were 22 hearings and 15,000 pages of evidence considered. The Republican Congress heard the same arguments against extending the law that the Court heard Wednesday, but after exhaustive hearings and overwhelming evidence, Congress determined that there was still a need for the law.
Beatings at Selma sparked Congress to Act
In 1965, a group of civil rights activists set out to march from Selma, Alabama to the Capitol Montgomery to advocate the right of African Americans to vote. The peaceful and non-violent group was beaten by the police, gassed, trampled by horses, and bitten by police dogs in an attempt to stop them from their peaceful march. The ugly footage of this event on the evening news shocked the conscience of the nation.
President Lyndon Johnson asked a Joint Session of Congress to take action. In a speech that remains to this day the most profound statement by a president on civil rights, the president, himself a southerner, demanded that Congress pass the Voting Rights Act. President Johnson said in his southern drawl “We shall overcome” referring to erasing the stain of race-based denial of equal rights for so many citizens.
Those of us who watched the beatings at Selma and President Johnson’s address on television can not believe what we just heard in the halls of the Supreme Court.
Congress passed the Act which has done more to insure equal rights for African Americans than anything since the abolition of slavery. The law prevents states and communities from enacting laws that intentionally deny the sacred right to vote to some citizens. Since 1965, the Justice Department has used the law thousand of times to block new and creative ways lawmakers have come up with to suppress the right to vote.
Is it possible that the Court will overturn it?
Activist Judges making the Supreme Court increasingly partisan
The Supreme Court, which has traditionally been removed from politics, has becoming more and more political and partisan in the last decade. The Court intervened to stop votes from being re-counted in Florida in order to install the losing candidate, George Bush, as president. Doing so insured that a Republican president would appoint right-leaning Judges who would continue the conservative majority created by Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush.
The Supreme Court is becoming an activist court. The four “conservative” judges with occasional help from Justice Kennedy have used the bench to further right wing causes. Not only did the court select a president, it allowed corporations and billionaires to contribute unlimited amounts of money to buy elections without disclosure. They have made other decisions that nip away at the progress women, minorities, and environmentalists made in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Now it seems that the most significant civil right legislation since the days immediately after the Civil War is about to be overturned, or at least gutted. This is shameful. It is a national disgrace. If the Court does this, the United States will lose all moral authority to tell nations like Iran, China, and North Korea they should respect human rights.
As the Reverend Al Sharpton said Wednesday “Jim Crow may be dead but his son James Crow Jr., Esquire, is alive and well.” He sits on the Supreme Court.