By Alan Bean
According to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court needs to rescue Washington politicians from the scourge of political correctness. Sure, the Senate voted 98-0 to keep key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in place, Scalia seemed to be saying, but they only voted that way because the right to vote has become a “black entitlement” and Senators didn’t see an upside to opposing civil rights.
One assumes the same arguments could have been employed against the Voting Rights Act when it was initially passed a half-century ago. After Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman were murdered in 1964 for trying to register black voters in Mississippi, and after civil rights leaders were gassed, beaten and trampled by horses on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma,, Alabama in 1965 public opinion was inflamed and a band of craven politicians yielded to the dictates of political correctness by unconstitutionally placing sovereign states under a federal yoke. Is that what Justice Scalia believes? And what of Justices Roberts, Thomas, Kennedy and Alito? Do they buy this line of reasoning?
Is voting rights a “racial entitlement”?
Justice Scalia is singing a new song to a traditional tune. Since the 1990s, conservatives have used the doctrine of “political correctness” to create a division between moderate Democrats and “radical liberals”. Sure, it’s an audacious move to apply this tactic to voting rights, but audacity is Scalia’s middle name (actually, it’s “Gregory”, but you get my drift). You can find the full context of Scalia’s comments, and the strong response of Justices Sotomayor and Kagan on the New Yorker blog.
Justice Scalia wouldn’t be adopting this nasty-as-I-wanna-be rhetoric if he didn’t think four other justices had his back. And they do. Most pundits expect that the critical section of the Voting Rights Act will be overturned when the Court releases its opinion in June.
Those who believe the South has fully recovered from its love affair with Jim Crow orthodoxy should read “Racial Resentment and the Mississippi Mainstream“, a piece I posted in November of 2010. Here’s my conclusion:
The Council of Conservative Citizens lacks the social prominence of the old white Citizens’ Council it replaced. But a proudly racist organization with close ties to folks like former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, former Mississippi Governors Kirk Fordice and Haley Barbour, and State Senator Lydia Chassaniol is too prominent to be safely ignored.
My point was that, in many parts of Mississippi, racial resentment is a mainstay of politics. The same could be said of Texas, a state that recently tried to dampen the impact of the minority vote by radically gerrymandering the state’s election maps. The feds scotched the deal but, if Justice Scalia has his way, Texas will soon be free to discriminate free from federal encumbrance. What a day of rejoicing that will be!