Justice Antonin Scalia

  • March 7, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Atiba R. Ellis, Associate Professor of Law, West Virginia University College of Law

    In my earlier guest blog on Shelby County, AL v. Holder, I suggested that the conservative justices of the Supreme Court would be tempted to offer a post-racialist narrative concerning the pre-clearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act. 

    The justices did not disappoint. Justice Anthony Kennedy asked whether Alabama should remain “under the trusteeship of the United States government.” Chief Justice John Roberts asked whether “the citizens in the South are more racist than the citizens in the North.” Both of these comments implicitly ask whether the long history of race has been atoned for once and for all.

    And then there was Justice Antonin Scalia’s statement on the Voting Rights Act. In explaining the almost unanimous consensus for the 2006 reauthorization of Section 5, Scalia said:

    Now, I don’t think that’s attributable to the fact that it is so much clearer now that we need this. I think it is attributable, very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement. It’s been written about. Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.

    On one level, this quote fits the post-racial narrative. Yet Justice Scalia intended a deeper message by invoking the rhetoric of “racial entitlement.” That message is the ahistorical belief that race-conscious analysis is immoral and leads to corrupt outcomes. Establishing this concept is part of a larger post-racial agenda (as we have seen already in the affirmative action debates), and the Voting Rights Act is the latest battleground. Yet, if applied to the right to vote, it will fly in the face of the plain text of the Constitution and our democratic consensus to insure equality in voting.

  • March 1, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Following oral argument in Shelby County v. Holder several court-watchers, to the consternation of some, wrote that the Voting Rights Act’s integral enforcement provision, Section 5, looked to be on the chopping block largely based on courtroom theatrics.

    But many of those court-watchers, such as The New York Times’ Adam Liptak, noted that it was indeed risky to make  predications based only on oral argument, while nonetheless pointing out that in 2009 in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District v. Holder, Chief Justice John Roberts and other members of the high court’s right-wing bloc made it rather clear that Congress should revisit the formula used to determine what states are covered by Section 5.

    As Liptak noted, Congress did not revisit the formula. And what happened during oral argument earlier this week? You had the Court’s right-wing justices grousing over the same things they did in Northwest. So it doesn’t take much of a leap to figure Justice Anthony Kennedy, who asked how much longer must Alabama remain under U.S. “trusteeship” is ready to join Roberts, and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in striking Section 5, by ending the use of the formula. (Section 5 requires states and localities, mostly in the South, to get “preclearance” of any proposed changes to their voting laws and procedures to ensure that they do not have the effect of discriminating against voters. The Constitution’s 14th and 15th Amendments provide Congress the power to take appropriate action to ensure that states do not deprive people of liberty or discriminate against voters because of their race.)

    The Brennan Center’s Myrna Pérez writes that the “arguments themselves do not provide much predictive value,” and that little was discussed during oral argument “over what exactly Congress needed to do differently to have appropriately fulfilled its duties.”

    ACS President Caroline Fredrickson also told TPM’s Sahil Kapur that the “silver lining is ultimately oral arguments are rarely a predictor of outcomes of the case.”

    Yep, lots of folks were predicating Kennedy would save the day for the Obama administration’s landmark health care reform law the Affordable Care Act. And of course we know how that turned out.

    As noted on this blog numerous times, Section 5 is the power behind the Voting Rights Act and Congress has the constitutional authority to combat racial discrimination in voting. Section 5, reauthorized in 2006, has helped prevent states bent on suppressing the votes of minorities from doing so, including Alabama, South Carolina, Texas and Florida. Without Section 5, those states will have great leeway in pursuing schemes to dilute the minority vote.

     

  • February 27, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The U.S. Supreme Court’s right-wing bloc appears ready to seriously weaken the integral enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

    During oral argument in Shelby County v. Holder, all of the court’s conservative justices as SCOTUSblog publisher Tom Goldstein reported appeared “committed to invalidating Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and requiring Congress to revisit the formula for requiring preclearance of voting changes.” (Section 5 requires certain states and towns, mostly in the South, to obtain “preclearance” for any changes to their voting laws and procedures to ensure they do not harm minority voters.)

    The New York Times’ Adam Liptak in a piece on today’s oral argument noted that Justice Anthony Kennedy asked attorneys arguing in favor of Section 5, how much longer states like Alabama must live “under the trusteeship of the United States government.” Liptak also noted that Justice Antonin Scalia took a shot at Section 5 saying it produces a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” The Huffington Post's Ryan J. Reilly expounded on Scalia's commentary, noting that the justice flippantly said Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act in 2006 because, who could vote against a bill with  such a "wonderful" name.

    Bloomberg’s Greg Stohr also noted Kennedy’s skepticism of Section 5, saying the justice chided Congress for relying on a supposedly outdated formula for deciding what states should be covered.

    Chief Justice John Roberts asked U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli whether the Obama administration believes people in the South “are more racist than citizens in the North.” The Associated Press reported that Verrilli said no.

    As Liptak noted in a piece earlier this morning, it has long been clear that the Court’s conservative wing views with great skepticism the formula Congress has used in determining what states should be covered by Section 5. He noted the 2009 opinion in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District v. Holder, in which Roberts said Congress should revisit the formula. Congress, however, took no action. Liptak continued that the conservative justices “could stop short of striking down Section 5 itself.” Instead, Liptak said the high court could call for an end to the use of the formula, meaning Congress would need to revise it for “preclearance” to continue to be useful. (During the 2012 elections cycle, Section 5 was used by the Department of Justice to halt potentially discriminatory voting procedures from taking effect in several of the covered jurisdictions, such as Texas, Florida and South Carolina.)

    Goldstein also wrote that it appears “unlikely that the Court will write an opinion forbidding a preclearance regime. But it may be difficult politically for Congress to enact a new measure.”

    Supporters of Section 5 argued in a slew of briefs before the high court that Congress via the 14th and 15th Amendments has great discretion in crafting proper legislation to ensure that states do not violate the rights of minorities, including particularly the right to ensure states do not discriminate in voting. It appeared during oral argument that the court’s five right-wing justices believed Congress has not done its job properly.

    ACS President Caroline Fredrickson said, “With so many recent efforts to suppress the vote, it should be clear that the law remains relevant and necessary. This Court should refrain from deciding unilaterally that Congress has completed its job of ensuring the promise of the 14th and 15th Amendments.”

  • November 19, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    It’s not where he said it; it’s what Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito had to say about the ruling in Citizens United and the role of the federal government that warrants any kind of notice.

    Alito has long been defensive of the high court’s handiwork in a decision that gave more power to corporate interests to spend their expenditures on politicking. That 2010 high court opinion in Citizens United v. FEC overturned longstanding court precedent allowing for some regulation of campaign financing by corporations. During the 2010 State of the Union address, President Obama blasted the Court for trampling that precedent and added that it would become a boon for special interests, including foreign ones, and Alito was caught on camera uttering, “Not true.”

    Recently the severely conservative judge (he was far right as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit) again sounded a defensive note on Citizens United before the Federalist Society’s 2012 National Lawyers Convention. Alito, as reported by the Associated Press, said all kinds of newspapers and television news and opinion broadcasts, many owned by vast corporate interests, sound off on and provide endorsements of candidates.

    “The question is whether speech that goes to the very heart of government should be limited to certain preferred corporations; namely media corporations,” Alito said during a keynote address at the group’s 30th Anniversary Gala Dinner on Nov. 15. “Surely the idea that the First Amendment protects only certain privileged voices should be disturbing to anybody who believes in free speech.”

    Beyond defending the opinion, and shooting a few asides at critics of the opinion, Alito sounded what is a frequent Tea Party or rightwing talking point about ever-expanding powers of the federal government, saying that the views advanced by the administration in several cases before the high court revealed a vision of a society dominated by a towering federal government.

  • November 16, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Justice Antonin Scalia, in his concurring/dissenting opinion in last term’s decision on Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, offered some unusual statements about Arizona’s need for such a ridiculously rigid immigration law, and even took a swipe at President Obama’s executive policy stopping deportations of some undocumented immigrants.   

    According to Scalia, Arizona was suffering from a deluge of undocumented immigrants. “Its citizens feel themselves under siege by large numbers of illegal immigrants who invade their property, strain their social services, and even place their lives in jeopardy.” But he did not stop there and advanced another rightwing talking point for justifying wobbly and harmful state action on immigration. It’s all the federal government’s fault, he said. “Federal officials have been unable to remedy the problem, and indeed have recently shown they are unwilling to do so.”

    It’s this mentality – undocumented persons are flooding states from coast to coast, using up scarce state resources and because the federal government won’t act, state lawmakers will – that undergirds laws like Arizona’s SB 1070 that also promote racial profiling and undermine all citizens’ rights.

    In a just released ACS Issue Brief, Pratheepan Gulasekaram and S. Karthick Ramakrishan not only take Justice Scalia to task for failing to “provide sources for these seemingly crucial truths,” but reveal a study of 50 states and more than 2,5000 localities that show “political affiliation was the most significant factor in explaining” the enactment of laws like Arizona’s SB 1070.