The words of Justice Scalia still sting to people of common sense and decency. More than week after labeling the right to vote as a racial entitlement, many in the country are still left to wonder if this Court can help prepare us for the next century. If it can't recognize its own racial firebombs it cannot be aware of the threat that exclusion continuously poses to the dream of democracy.
Justice Scalia and others assert a viewpoint that our modern world has long erased the impacts of slavery, poll taxes, and Jim Crow segregation. Those times in our history were not the oddities of a particular cultural period, they were manifestations of power players vying for economic and political power. That game is far from over.
Since 2011, over 30 states have tried to pass some sort of Voter ID law, rekindling the institutional obstacles to voting that first popped up after the end of Reconstruction era. In that time, as is the case now, the exercise of discriminatory rules to block the franchise of entire sectors of people was an attempt to use the power of government to maintain strict reigns on the institutions of governance , and thereby the economy, wealth, and privilege. The Voting Rights Act was enacted after life and death struggles to breakthrough those obstacles. It was passed in 1965 as a major breakthrough in passing from one phase of racial dominance toward a more inclusive society. It was a sign of progress.
It is ironic that the Supreme Court is reviewing the current efficacy of the VRA, 50 years later, when the country is experiencing a similar political and demographic shift. This time it is not just millions of slaves that are brimming to be part of the body politic, but a wide range of race and ethnicities, especially Latinos but also millions of ex-felons who have been kept out of the political process. Justice Scalia, who you would imagine is a deep student of history and the law, has chosen to be on the wrong side of both. Using Ronald Reagan's racially implicative language of entitlements, he essentially racializes minority voters as welfare queens and 'illegals' who either should not have any rights or who are abusing the rights that they do have.
Coming from the Highest Court in the land, his words have huge impact and meaning. Here in Florida, the governor and legislature took on a program that also criminalized immigrant and black voters. Governor Rick Scott's voter purges made a spectacle of targeting immigrants and the legislatures targeting of voter laws which conjured voter fraud by black voters. Their actions and words from the highest authority makes it open season to continue to attack the equal rights of all citizens.
Moreover, his words from the bench denigrates, for all Americans, the value, privilege, and responsibility of voting. Calling it a handout for one group, makes it cheap for everyone. Such language is alarming from any source but even more irresponsible when it comes an institution of such powerful and legal authority as the Supreme Court. Ronald Reagan's imagery and implicit racial attack on welfare queens and drugs led to the elimination of a social safety net for poor families and the development of a mass incarceration industry that steals the potential of black and brown children away from our schools and into our jails.
Justice Scalia's impact could be even more destructive. If you follow the path down the road, it is an early rationalization for limiting and creating tiers of citizenship rights which will invariably be directly tied to merit, conduct, good behavior, hard work, and countless other mazes. Those like Reagan's program, had racial undertones and impacts written all over them. In doing so, it takes voting off the sacred alter of American ideals and puts it on the chopping block of things that people don't deserve, either in the name of fiscal austerity or moral/racial qualification. It takes us way back, and sets up for divisive conflict, a divide that many have shed blood to get across.