Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was torn to shreds in the media for calling the Voting Rights Act a “racial entitlement” during heated arguments last week.
But that was just part of the “ugliness that erupted from the bench” when the high court heard a challenge to Section 5 of that 1965 law, Linda Greenhouse writes in The New York Times.
Section 5 requires part or all of 16 states (mostly in the South) to get permission from the U.S. before changing their election laws, as a way to make sure minorities aren’t disenfranchised.
In a scathing op-ed, veteran Supreme Court reporter Greenhouse took the Supreme Court to task for being on the verge of dismantling one of the most important civil rights laws in the United States. From her op-ed:
‘Even the name of it is wonderful: the Voting Rights Act,’ Justice Scalia said, his voice dripping with sarcasm as he suggested that only political correctness, rather than a principled commitment to protect the right to vote, had kept the disputed Section 5 of the act alive through four successive Congressional re-enactments.
The VRA was enacted when Southern states used ugly tactics like poll taxes and literacy tests keep blacks away from the polls.
In more recent years, the U.S. has used the VRA to thwart laws such as voter ID laws that have the effect of disenfranchising minorities.
John Roberts and others have suggested that the law wrongfully implies Southern states are more racist than those in the North. But Greenhouse, and the more liberal Supreme Court justices, point out that it’s not the Supreme Court’s job to decide where discrimination exists.
(In fact, one recent study found voters in Southern states covered by Section 5 do in fact have more racial bias than those in Northern states.)
By undermining the authority of Congress, which passed the VRA, Greenhouse points out the court would be assuming a “big new power,” as Justice Elena Kagan said during arguments.
“The Roberts court stands on the brink of making an error of historic proportions,” Greenhouse writes. “A needless and reckless aggrandizement of power in one case to satisfy the current majority’s agenda will erode the court’s authority over time.”
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.