It was no surprise that the Supreme Court’s far-right Justices would take a dim view of the Voting Rights Act in today’s oral arguments in Shelby County v. Holder. Even so, Justice Scalia managed to outdo himself in showing his willingness to ignore any aspect of the law that gets in his way.
The Fifteenth Amendment, which prohibits voting discrimination on the basis of race, specifically empowers Congress to pass laws putting its commands into effect:
The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
It’s hard to get any plainer than that. Yet Scalia today claimed that Congress should not be involved in this area. After denigrating the most important civil rights legislation in United States history as “racial entitlement,” he went on:
Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.
I don’t think there is anything to be gained by any Senator to vote against continuation of this act. And I am fairly confident it will be reenacted in perpetuity unless — unless a court can say it does not comport with the Constitution. You have to show, when you are treating different States differently, that there’s a good reason for it.
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.
So protecting the right to vote is a “racial entitlement.” And when the Constitution gives Congress the authority to do something, it’s up to Justice Scalia to jump in and decide that Congress really shouldn’t have that authority.
Scalia is famous for his claimed fealty to the text of a law. But he ignores the text of the Fifteenth Amendment. As if that weren’t bad enough, he takes it upon himself to decide that Congress clearly didn’t mean it when it adopted and extended Section 5.
And to think that conservatives want more Justices like Scalia on our nation’s courts.