A racial entitlement argument from Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has angered civil eights leaders after the justice suggested that the Voting Rights Act was re-authorized by politicians afraid of upsetting minorities.
Scalia made the racial entitlement argument while the court was discussing the Voting Rights Act, which was passed at the height of the Civil Rights Movement to end discrimination at voting polls in the south. A number of states and counties are arguing to the court that the 1965 act is no longer needed to give special protection to blacks at the polls.
The conservative Scalia seemed to agree. He said that each time the act has been re-authorized it has had more support in the Senate, despite the fact that racial discrimination at the polls has decreased, Yahoo! News noted.
“Now, I don’t think that’s attributable to the fact that it is so much clearer now that we need this,” he said. “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.”
The racial entitlement argument drew almost immediate criticism. Congressman John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat who played a key role in the Civil Rights Movement, strongly disagreed with Antonin Scalia.
“It is an affront to all of what the civil rights movement stood for, what people died for, what people bled for, and those of us who marched across that bridge 48 years ago, we didn’t march for some racial entitlement,” Lewis told MSNBC. “We wanted to open up the political process and let all of the people come in, and it didn’t matter whether they were black or white, Latino, Asian-American or Native American.”
The debate over the Voting Rights Act seems to have divided the court, The Huffington Post noted. Justice Sonya Sotomayor argued that Shelby County, Alabama, with its continued history of racial discrimination, wouldn’t be the right place to argue against the act.
“Some parts of the South have changed. Your county pretty much hasn’t,” said Sotomayor. “You may be the wrong party bringing this.”
Even with the criticism of Scalia’s racial entitlement argument, many followers of the Supreme Court believe at least part of the Voting Rights Act — likely the part that specifically targets states and counties with a history of racial discrimination at the polls — will be struck down.