Key provisions of the Voting Rights Act are now a form of racial entitlement, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told university students Monday, saying the law has changed over the years from its role as an emergency response to racial discrimination when enacted in 1965.
The act's Section 5 requires state and local governments that have discriminated against minority voters in the past to get federal approval for changing election procedures.
Scalia, elaborating on remarks he made during recent Supreme Court arguments, told students at the University of California's Washington Center that the law is actually “racial preferment” because the federal government isn't as interested in protecting the voting rights of white people, The Wall Street Journal reports.
In February, Scalia dismissed continuing congressional support for Section 5 as being a “perpetuation of racial entitlement” during oral arguments at the court.
In 2006, President George W. Bush signed a 25-year extension of the law. But Shelby County, Ala., which is 85 percent white and run by an all-white county commission, is challenging the law in court, claiming that progress in race relations makes federal oversight unconstitutional. The Supreme Court is expected to decide on the case before July.
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Scalia told students that he does not believe it fair for Virginia, his own home state, to have to get federal clearance for voting changes, noting that the Commonwealth has elected a black governor — Douglas Wilder, a Democrat who served from 1990 to 1994 — while most states exempted from Section 5 have never put a black chief executive in office.
During his talk with students, Scalia admitted that after Justice Clarence Thomas joined the court in 1991 his own decisions in cases started leaning more to the right. Over the course of the 1990s, he said, the news media portrayed Thomas as his pawn or a follower of his decisions. But Scalia insisted that in reality “what happened was I had followed Clarence.”
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