It’s hard to believe it was only 50 years ago that Alabama’s governor physically tried to stop two black students from integrating the University of Alabama.
Gov. George Wallace’s infamous “stand in the schoolhouse door” on June 11, 1963 prompted John F. Kennedy Jr. to beg Congress to pass a comprehensive civil rights bill.
If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who will represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the colour of his skin changed and stand in his place?
Of course, Congress did pass comprehensive civil rights laws. Now, Shelby County, Ala. is trying to convince the Supreme Court to undo a law passed in that era — the Voting Rights Act, which has been called our “most important” civil rights law.
The VRA requires states that have discriminated against minority voters in the past to get permission from the federal government before changing their election laws.
These days, the federal government uses the VRA to block laws that make it harder for blacks, Hispanics, and low-income voters to get to the polls (including voter ID laws).
During arguments in the VRA case, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia raised a lot of eyebrows when he called the law “racial entitlement.” John Roberts caused a stir himself when he asked a lawyer for the South whether the federal government still thinks Southerners are racist.
Based on the arguments in February, top Supreme Court attorney Tom Goldstein predicted the high court would do away with the landmark law. The decision is due this month.
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