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Racial entitlement?

“… And this last enactment, not a single vote in the Senate against it. And the House is pretty much the same. … I think it is attributable, very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement.” —Justice Antonin Scalia, Feb. 27, 2013, during oral argument on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Justice Scalia is overwhelmingly, demonstrably wrong. The law that secures voting rights is not a racial entitlement — it is a safeguard of our democracy.

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires each state, county or municipality found operating discriminatory voting procedures, to “pre-clear” any new voting or registration rules with the U.S. Department of Justice. A jurisdiction may be excused from all future pre-clearance by demonstrating 10 years of continuous non-discrimination; since 1965, more than 20 counties have been excused. The Voting Rights Act in general, and Section 5 in particular, largely neutralized “Jim Crow,” the network of shameful laws that comprehensively disenfranchised people of color late into the 20th century.

Section 5 remains essential for the preservation and expansion of our democracy. The fact that jurisdictions still subject to Section 5 only remain so because they are unable to demonstrate 10 continuous years of non-discrimination, is more than sufficient proof that Section 5 is still badly needed. Indeed, some parties currently challenging Section 5 before the Supreme Court rank among the counties and municipalities with the worst ongoing voter discrimination records.

These facts appear not to impress Justice Scalia and his ideological cohort. Also absent from that mindset is any acknowledgment of the recent proliferation of arbitrary and unnecessarily restrictive registration and voting laws across the country; proponents openly admit such measures will not deter illegal voting (which studies show rarely occurs), but will instead substantially suppress registration and voting by otherwise eligible low-income and minority citizens. The registration and voting process lessons from the 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 presidential elections were not that voting had become to easy, or too permissive; rather those elections were characterized by states engaging in almost willfully inept voter list purges, which disproportionately and incorrectly targeted qualified poor and minority voters, of seven to 12 hour lines to vote, and of continuously reduced polling station hours in poor and minority neighborhoods. Justice Scalia is apparently indifferent to these scandalous conditions as well.

Some believe President Obama’s re-election “proves” the Act is unneeded. That belief is dangerously wrong. Like the supposition that a diabetic can safely discontinue insulin because he hasn’t experienced diabetic shock in three years, both notions mistake the success of a preventative measure for a permanent cure.

In Justice Scalia’s cynical view, Congress’s 2006 re-enactment of the Voting Rights Act was not a rational response to the 12,000 pages of testimony documenting the effectiveness and continuing need for the Voting Rights Act, but was instead the result of racially motivated political correctness. This sentiment is irrational and beyond the pale.

The Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee supplies this column.

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