Scalia’s Racial Entitlement Argument Reveals Ugly Truths, But No Surprises

racial entitlement argument

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s racial entitlement argument has caused a bit of debate as the judge said out loud what many Americans in a very racially divided country don’t — that certain considerations given minorities are essentially unfair to white folk.

That Scalia’s racial entitlement argument was even made in and of itself is not shocking — the most recent election revealed a country still heavily divided among race lines. Much campaign rhetoric centered around whether Barack Obama’s supporters were able to stage an essential coup in luring poor, and often black or Hispanic, voters with “free gifts” such as healthcare, SNAP benefits and other “goodies” to give them a competitive edge over hard-working white people.

Seeing the racial entitlement argument filter into the Supreme Court is not unexpected after the toxic debate permeated media and the voting booth — and even in concession, Romney went down fighting the fight of the oppressed white man.

Also at issue in the most recent election, preceding Scalia’s racial entitlement article, was the relative ease of voting for middle-class and often white voters versus their possibly poorer, possibly blacker counterparts. And indeed, it emerged troublingly that the GOP has no moral qualms about working to make voting a more difficult to access right among socio-economically challenged folk in order to win elections.

In discussion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Scalia’s racial entitlement argument was made, with the justice opining:

“Now, I don’t think that’s attributable to the fact that it is so much clearer now that we need this. 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.”

Scalia’s vague assertion that “it’s been written about” (by whom, how, and in what context were not, of course, elaborated upon) are only the start of questions one might ask about the pervasive racial entitlements to which he refers.


A Salon writer explains that in her view, the racial entitlement argument made by the Supreme Court Judge may in fact reveal a racial entitlement of a different sort — white people, and wealthy people, who feel that their political clout should be stronger by merit of birthright:

“The right-wing justice’s rant goes to the heart of long-held conservative ambivalence about democracy: that corrupt politicians will be able to buy off the rabble, with “spoils” or patronage or jobs; even outright gifts of cash. Only men of wealth, property and education could be trusted to rise above such rank bribery, which is why many states had property requirements and other limits on voting in the early days of our country; universal suffrage didn’t even reach all white men until 1830.”

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow was similarly unsurprised but unimpressed with Scalia’s racial entitlement argument — butd the news host was also dismissive of the Judge’s views, likening them to that of an attention seeking internet commenter as she spoke with The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart:

“He knows it’s offensive. He knows he’s going to get a gasp from the court room, which he got. And he loves it. He’s like the guy on your blog comment thread who is using the N-word — ‘Oh did I make you mad? Did I make you mad? Did I make you mad?’ — he’s like that … When we’re all shocked that he said something so blatantly offensive about the cornerstone of the Civil Rights Act, he’s thinking: ‘Oh yeah, I did,'”


ThinkProgress also weighed in on the implications of Scalia’s racial entitlement article — to wit, that the comment was not just an indicator of how he sees black voters, but also a signal that the Judge is willing to interpret the law based not wholly on the law’s intent, but what he believes personally and politically:

“This is a disturbing idea for many reasons, but one of the biggest ones is that its logic could extend well beyond the Voting Rights Act. There is a common belief among conservatives that welfare programs by their very nature lead to the kind of so-called breakdown of democracy that Scalia finds objectionable in the Voting Rights Act case … [In the 47 percent video], Romney warned that as the government creates welfare programs, this transforms welfare recipients into a constituency for those programs. And eventually that constituency becomes so large that it is impossible for a lawmaker to repeal those programs, or for people who oppose those programs to get elected.”

But like much that is revealed in a small, inadvertent glimpse, Scalia’s racial entitlement argument is more disheartening than it is actionable per se — we can talk about it and we can object to it as thinking Americans, but at the end of the day, there is a man sitting on the bench in the highest court in the land that looks back to our biggest civil rights victories and views them not as progress, but as another chip away from the imagined facade of “Real America.”