Scalia: Voting Rights Act a "racial preferment"

March 8, 2012 file photo shows Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia speaking at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File

Several portions of the Voting Rights Act, originally implemented in 1965 as an emergency response to racial prejudice, have turned into an "embedded" form of "racial preferment" that will persist unless the high court steps in to end them, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told a group of students on Friday, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Supreme Court in February heard oral arguments about Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires states with a history of racial discrimination - largely former Confederate states - to receive federal approval for any change in voting or election procedures.

Speaking Monday evening at the University of California Washington Center, Scalia echoed remarks he made during the oral arguments, when he described Section 5 as a "racial entitlement" because white people do not enjoy similar protections against prejudice in voting procedures.

Although Congress has repeatedly reauthorized the act - and the Supreme Court has previously upheld Section 5 - the court is now considering a case brought by a largely white community in Alabama arguing that race relations have progressed sufficiently enough to render Section 5 unnecessary and unconstitutional. A decision is expected to arrive before July.

Scalia also suggested that it was unfair to single out southern states for federal oversight, pointing out that his home state of Virginia had elected a black governor - Douglas Wilder - in 1989, a mark of racial progress not matched by many states that do not have to seek federal approval before changing voting laws.

At the oral arguments in February, Chief Justice John Roberts zeroed in on the law's selective geographical application, asking the government whether it believed "the citizens in the South are more racist than the citizens in the North."

Dedo Adegbile, the lawyer defending the statute, later explained, "The problems are much more serious, much more repetitive, there is much greater continuity in certain places than others."

  • Jake Miller

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