Setting Scalia Straight on ‘Racial Entitlement’

The conservative justice's commentary at Wednesday's Supreme Court arguments in Voting Rights Act case elicited a swift response.

(The Root) — During Wednesday’s Supreme Court oral arguments in Shelby County v. Holder, Justice Antonin Scalia reportedly called the renewal of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act — which is designed to prevent discriminatory state voting laws by requiring them to be cleared by the Department of Justice — “the perpetuation of racial entitlement.”

Well, if by “racial entitlement” he meant the idea that places with histories of racial discrimination should be prohibited from reducing the voting strength of racial minorities, we’re not sure what’s so wrong with that.

Civil rights groups were quick to give their own takes on the conservative commentary.

“We disagree with Justice Antonin Scalia, who today referred to the renewal of the Voting Rights Act as the ‘perpetuation of a racial entitlement,’ as if racial discrimination has ended. In the past two years alone, six of the nine states fully covered by Section 5 passed restrictions that would have made it harder for people of color to vote, and many of these were blocked thanks to Section 5. The Voting Rights Act is not an ‘entitlement.’ It is a critically needed protection for our most fundamental right,” the Advancement Project’s Judith Browne-Dianis said.

Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, director of People for the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council, responded, “Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act doesn’t represent the ‘perpetuation of racial entitlement,’ as Justice Scalia states. Rather, it is one of the most important tools we have for confronting the entitlement of those who believe some people’s votes and voices should matter more than others … I hope that Scalia’s fellow justices will approach this issue more thoughtfully, and with a greater awareness of the reality in their country.”