Target: Representative John Lewis (D-GA), Representative Jim Clyburn (D-SC), NAACP President Ben Jealous, Reverend Al Sharpton
Goal: Thank various leaders for sanding up to hostile comments regarding the Voting Rights Act of 1965 from Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia
As the Supreme Court recently convened to deliberate one of the central provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia has come under fire for abrasive comments made during oral arguments regarding the law and its history. The case brought to the court by officials from Shelby County, Alabama will determine whether Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires certain states, mainly in the South, to show that any proposed election-law change would not discriminate against minority voters, is still necessary.
Scalia, a conservative stronghold on the court, made the observation that when the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, there were 19 dissenters. Since then, all subsequent reauthorizations of the act have been passed with diminishing numbers of dissenters, and in 2006 it passed without any dissent. Scalia insinuated that this trend is not reflective of a national commitment to ending racial disenfranchisement but rather of fear of policymakers to be labeled as racist. He then toward the end of his remarks said that the Voting Rights Act was a “perpetuation of racial entitlement,” a comment that has sparked outrage from civil rights groups across the nation.
Ben Jealous, President of the NAACP said to ABC News “The protection of the right to vote is an American entitlement. It is a democratic entitlement. And those who would seek to use incendiary rhetoric from the bench of the Supreme Court should think twice about their place in history.” Representative John Lewis (D-GA), Reverend Al Sharpton, and other powerful civil rights leaders have also condemned the comments.
Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the third most powerful Democrat in the House of Representatives who has been involved in civil rights activism since age 12, said of the remarks, “Playing around with the Voting Rights Act is playing with fire.” He also said the act, “had a positive impact on the voting rights of people traditionally denied the right to vote. To ignore that, to me, is beyond the pale. It means you went to the bench with an agenda.”
Scalia’s comments show the court may be poised to strike down Section 5, which voting rights activists believe will enable states, particularly conservative states, to disenfranchise minority voters through certain restrictions like voter ID laws. Scalia’s attitude about such issues show exactly why provisions like Section 5 are still necessary. The decision comes on the heels of the 2012 election where many state attempts were made to stymy the vote, and continued attempts of states to pass laws that would put harsh restrictions on voting.
Thank these Civil Rights leaders for speaking out against the insensitive and hurtful comments about one of the most defining laws of american history and the Civil Rights Movement.
Dear Representative Lewis, Representative Clyburn, Mr. Jealous and Reverend Sharpton,
The recent comments made by Justice Antonin Scalia regarding the Voting Rights Act are disturbingly rooted in racial resentment, a troubling notion for someone serving on the highest court in this nation. We thank you for speaking out forcefully against these comments and reminding Justice Scalia and Americans of the the long struggle African Americans and other minority groups have faced for obtaining civil rights and suffrage. With the continued attempts of states to try and disenfranchise voters, we believe the importance of the act cannot be overstated, and Justice Scalia’s insensitivity towards it is deeply upsetting.
The Voting Rights Act was a cornerstone of the civil rights movement and holds deep meaning for African Americans and other groups that have been historically marginalized and kept out of the civic process. The unanimous reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act is not indicative of widespread fear of political ramifications, but of genuine belief that we must continue to protect the precious right to vote for all Americans, namely those that have been denied it in the past. Attitudes are changing; racial discrimination and rhetoric like “perpetuation of entitlement” are no longer acceptable in the eyes of most Americans, as seen by the 2012 election. Thank you for using your powerful voices to rebuke Scalia’s comments. We hope continued progress is made in protecting the vote for all Americans, and we recognize your important role in that progress.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: US Supreme Court