With all this talk of gay people marrying one another, some people on the right are starting to bleat about how they’re being oppressed for their Christian beliefs—so oppressed, in fact, that they’re starting to feel like “second-class citizens.” Here’s CBN’s David Brody lamenting the sorrows of Kirk Cameron and Tim Tebow. Here’s Red State’s Erik Erikson predicting the coming pogrom (“Within a year or two we will see Christian schools attacked for refusing to admit students whose parents are gay. We will see churches suffer the loss of their tax exempt status for refusing to hold gay weddings. We will see private businesses shut down because they refuse to treat as legitimate that which perverts God’s own established plan.”). Here’s Fox News commentator Todd Starnes on the oppression that has already begun (“it’s as if we’re second-class citizens now because we support the traditional, Biblical definition of marriage”). And how is this second-class citizenship being thrust upon them back in the real world? Well, people are … strongly disagreeing with their position on an issue of public concern! It’s awful, I tell ya.
The impulse to jam that crown of thorns down on your head is a powerful one in politics. It means you’ve achieved the moral superiority of the victim, and the other side must be the victimizer. The problem is that these folks don’t seem to have much of a grasp on what second-class citizenship actually looks like. Last time I checked, nobody was forbidden to vote because they’re a Christian, or not allowed to eat in their choice of restaurants, or forced to use separate water fountains, or even be forbidden by the state to marry the person of their choice. That’s what second-class citizenship is. Having somebody on television call your views retrograde may not be fun, but it doesn’t make you a second-class citizen.
Of course, they say, “Just you wait.” But these fantasies of oppression are just that, fantasies. One of their favorite scare stories is that before you know it, Christian ministers are going to be hauled off to jail or have their churches lose their tax-exempt status if they refuse to marry gay people. Right, just like at the moment a Jewish synagogue will lose its tax-exempt status if the rabbi won’t preside over a Pentecostal wedding. And as for the florist who refuses to sell flowers to a gay couple, what he’s asking for is not a right but a privilege, the privilege to discriminate based on sexual orientation. It’s no different than if he refused to sell flowers to an interracial couple. But somehow, if he finds justification for that discriminatory practice in his faith, that’s supposed to make it a fundamental right.
I’m more than happy to admit that in certain circles, it’s more acceptable to be gay than to be an evangelical Christian. That’s what Chief Justice Roberts was getting at when he noted during the oral arguments about DOMA that “political figures are falling all over themselves” to endorse gay marriage, and thus gay people don’t qualify as a disfavored minority. But what we’re talking about here isn’t attendance at fashionable Upper West Side parties, it’s discrimination under the law. That’s what makes you a second-class citizen. It’s what gay people live with now, and it’s something that is never, ever going to happen to Christians, no matter how bad some of them may feel when people tell them they’re wrong.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, March 27, 2013
“Racial Entitlement?”: Trust Us Says The South, Just Like The Wifebeater Who Says He Has Seen The Error Of His Ways
One day, many years ago, I was working in my college bookstore when this guy walks in wearing a T-shirt. “White Power,” it said.
I was chatting with a friend, Cathy Duncan, and what happened next was as smooth as if we had rehearsed it. All at once, she’s sitting on my lap or I’m sitting on hers — I can’t remember which — and that white girl gives this black guy a peck on the lips. In a loud voice she asks, “So, what time should I expect you home for dinner, honey?”
Mr. White Power glares malice and retreats. Cathy and I fall over laughing.
Which tells you something about how those of us who came of age in the first post-civil-rights generation tended to view racism; we saw it as something we could dissipate with a laugh, a tired old thing that had bedeviled our parents, yes, but which we were beyond. We thought racism was over.
I’ve spent much of my life since then being disabused of that naivete. Watching media empires built upon appeals to racial resentment, seeing the injustice system wield mass incarceration as a weapon against black men, bearing witness as the first African-American president produced his long-form birth certificate, all helped me understand just how silly we were to believe bigotry was done.
So a chill crawled my spine last week as the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could result in gutting the Voting Rights Act. That landmark 1965 legislation gave the ballot to black voters who had previously been denied it by discriminatory laws, economic threats, violence and by registrars who challenged them with nonsense questions like, “How many bubbles are in a bar of soap?”
One of the act’s key provisions covers nine mostly Southern states and scores of municipalities with histories of such behavior. They must get federal approval before changing their voting procedures. The requirement may be stigmatizing, but it is hardly onerous.
Yet Shelby County, AL seeks the provision’s repeal, pronouncing itself cured of the attitudes that made it necessary. “The children of today’s Alabama are not racist and neither is their government,” wrote Alabama attorney general Luther Strange last week.
It was rather like hearing a wifebeater say he has seen the error of his ways and will no longer smack the missus around. Though you’re glad and all, you still hope the wife’s testimony will carry a little more weight in deciding whether the restraining order should be lifted.
But the Court’s conservatives seemed eager to believe, peppering the law’s defenders with skeptical questions. Indeed, Justice Antonin Scalia branded the law a “racial entitlement.”
Sit with that a moment. A law protecting the voting rights of a historically disenfranchised minority is a “racial entitlement”? Equality is a government program?
Lord, have mercy.
There is historical resonance here. In the 1870s, the South assured the federal government it could behave itself without oversight. The feds agreed to leave the region alone where race was concerned. The result: nearly a century of Jim Crow. Now here comes Shelby County, saying in effect: We’ve changed. Trust us.
It is an appeal that might have seemed persuasive back when I was young and naive, sitting on Cathy’s lap (or she on mine) and thinking race was over. But that was a long time ago.
Yes, the South has changed — largely because of the law Shelby County seeks to gut. Even so, attempts to dilute the black vote have hardly abated. We’ve just traded poll taxes and literacy tests for gerrymandering and Voter ID laws.
So we can ill afford to be as naive as a top Court conservative at the prospect of softening federal protection of African-American voting rights. “Trust us,” says the South. And the whole weight of history demands a simple question in response.
By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., The National Memo, March 3, 3013
“Vulnerability Of The Vote”: Insurance Against Racial Suppression Should Not Be On A Backwards Slide
An odd scene unfolded in Washington on Wednesday: as the president and leaders of Congress were dedicating a statue to Rosa Parks, the lifelong activist whose defiance on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus helped spark the Civil Rights Movement, across the street the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on one of the signature piece of civil rights legislation, the Voting Rights Act.
Specifically, the court heard the case of Shelby County v. Holder, in which that Alabama county seeks to overturn Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which was passed in 1965. That section requires states — and some municipalities — to get pre-clearance from the Justice Department or the District of Columbia federal court before making any changes to voting laws.
The fundamental question is whether states that have a history of voter suppression should forever have to live with the legacy of that past.
The problem with the law, in my mind, is that it should be expanded rather than struck down.
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University maintains that “Section 5 is an essential and proven tool.” According to the center:
“Although progress has been made since the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, voting discrimination still persists. Between 1982 and 2006 (when Congress overwhelmingly renewed the law), the Voting Rights Act blocked more than 1,000 proposed discriminatory voting changes. Without Section 5’s protection, these changes would have gone into effect and harmed minority voters.”
The center calls the passage of the Voting Rights Act “a reflection of the promise of our Constitution that all Americans would truly have the right to vote without facing discrimination, poll taxes, and other abuses,” and I wholeheartedly agree with that point of view.
The problem that the law may run into is that it’s too narrow.
In a 2009 ruling questioning the constitutionality of Section 5, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote:
“The evil that Section 5 is meant to address may no longer be concentrated in the jurisdictions singled out for preclearance. The statute’s coverage formula is based on data that is now more than 35 years old, and there is considerable evidence that it fails to account for current political conditions. For example, the racial gap in voter registration and turnout is lower in the States originally covered by Section 5 than it is nationwide.”
If the Voting Rights Act covered all states and not just some, Justice Roberts’s argument would be null. In fact, there is growing evidence that such a national requirement would be prudent. Many of the states that sought to install voter suppression laws leading up to last year’s election were in fact not covered by Section 5.
Roberts hammered this point home Wednesday during oral arguments, asking, “Is it the government’s submission that the citizens in the South are more racist than the citizens in the North?”
Seven of the nine states covered by Section 5 are in the south (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia). The other two states are Arizona and Alaska. Some counties and townships are covered in other states.
The Southern states that Section 5 applies to span the Black Belt of the south, a region with the most glaring electoral abuses in the 1960s.
A November Pew Research Center report points out the obvious: blacks were the largest minority group in 1960, but that is no longer the case.
According to the report, blacks were 11 percent of the population, while Hispanics were 3.5 percent and Asians were .6 percent. Since then, the demographics of the country have changed dramatically. According to Pew, in 2011 blacks were 12 percent of the population, while Hispanics were 17 percent and Asians were 5 percent. And the numbers are projected to change even more. By 2050 Pew estimates that blacks will be only 13 percent of the population, while Hispanics will be 29 percent and Asians 9 percent.
To boot, Hispanics and Asians geographically dispersed differently than blacks.
We not only need to keep Section 5 in place, we also need to consider expanding it so that every voter has fair and equal access to the ballot. There are hurdles to achieving this goal, of course. The court might also find that it’s unconstitutional to broaden that section of the law, deeming it too onerous and an infringement on states’ rights — particularly those states that don’t have a demonstrable, endemic, systematic history of discrimination.
Still, it’s worth some thought.
During oral arguments, Justice Antonin Scalia went so far as to call Section 5 the “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” (That guy…) It’s not a racial entitlement, sir, but insurance against racial suppression.
In the president’s remarks at the statue dedication, he rightfully hedged his words. Instead of saying that because of people like Parks our children grow up in a land that is free and fair and true to its founding creed, he said that because of them it is “more free and more fair; a land truer to its founding creed.” (Emphasis mine.)
We’ve come a long way, but we’re not there yet, and the last thing we want or need now is to slide backward.
By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 27, 2013
“Sotomayor, Kagan Ready For Battles”: You May Have The Votes Conservatives, But You’re Going To Have A Fight
For a quarter-century, Antonin Scalia has been the reigning bully of the Supreme Court, but finally a couple of justices are willing to face him down.
As it happens, the two manning up to take on Nino the Terrible are women: the court’s newest members, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
The acerbic Scalia, the court’s longest-serving justice, got his latest comeuppance Wednesday morning, as he tried to make the absurd argument that Congress’s renewal of the Voting Rights Act in 2006 by votes of 98 to 0 in the Senate and 390 to 33 in the House did not mean that Congress actually supported the act. Scalia, assuming powers of clairvoyance, argued that the lawmakers were secretly afraid to vote against this “perpetuation of racial entitlement.”
Kagan wasn’t about to let him get away with that. In a breach of decorum, she interrupted his questioning of counsel to argue with him directly. “Well, that sounds like a good argument to me, Justice Scalia,” she said. “It was clear to 98 senators, including every senator from a covered state, who decided that there was a continuing need for this piece of legislation.”
Scalia replied to Kagan, “Or decided that perhaps they’d better not vote against it, that there’s nothing, that there’s no — none of their interests in voting against it.”
Justice Stephen Breyer defused the tension. “I don’t know what they’re thinking exactly,” he said, changing the subject.
The styles of the two Obama appointees are different. Sotomayor is blunt and caustic, repeatedly interrupting. In an opinion this week, she harshly criticized a Texas prosecutor for a racist line of questioning. She has been on the interview circuit publicizing her memoir.
Kagan is choosier about when to interject herself, but she’s sardonic and sharp-witted. (“Well, that’s a big, new power that you are giving us,” she said, mockingly, when a lawyer tried to argue that the justices should overrule Congress’s discrimination findings.)
Both are more forceful than the Clinton appointees, the amiable Breyer and the frail Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The two new justices are sending a message to the court’s conservative majority: You may have the votes, but you’re going to have a fight.
Wednesday’s voting rights case was typical. Surprisingly, the five conservative justices seemed willing to strike down a landmark civil rights law (the provision that gives extra scrutiny to states with past discrimination) that was renewed with near-unanimous votes in Congress. Conservative jurists usually claim deference to the elected branches, but in this case they look an awful lot like activist judges legislating from the bench.
Sotomayor allowed the lawyer for the Alabama county seeking to overturn the law to get just four sentences into his argument before interrupting him. “Assuming I accept your premise — and there’s some question about that — that some portions of the South have changed, your county pretty much hasn’t,” she charged. “Why would we vote in favor of a county whose record is the epitome of what caused the passage of this law to start with?”
Moments later, Kagan pointed out that “Alabama has no black statewide elected officials” and has one of the worst records of voting rights violations.
Scalia and Justice Samuel Alito tried to assist the Alabama county’s lawyer by offering some friendly hypotheticals, but Sotomayor wasn’t interested in hearing that. “The problem with those hypotheticals is obvious,” she said, because “it’s a real record as to what Alabama has done to earn its place on the list.”
Sotomayor continued questioning as if she were the only jurist in the room. “Discrimination is discrimination,” she informed him, “and what Congress said is it continues.”
At one point, Justice Anthony Kennedy tried to quiet her. “I would like to hear the answer to the question,” he said. The lawyer got out a few more sentences — and then Kagan broke in.
Sotomayor continued to pipe up, even when Solicitor General Donald Verrilli was defending the Voting Rights Act — at one point breaking in as Alito was attempting to speak. Chief Justice John Roberts overruled her. “Justice Alito,” he directed.
Scalia was not about to surrender his title of worst-behaved justice. He mocked the civil rights law as he questioned the government lawyer. “Even the name of it is wonderful,” he said. “The Voting Rights Act: Who is going to vote against that?” (Verrilli cautioned him not to ignore actual votes of Congress in favor of “motive analysis.”)
But Scalia’s mouth was no longer the loudest in the room. When the Alabama county’s lawyer returned for his rebuttal, he managed to utter only five words — “Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice” — before Sotomayor broke in.
By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 27, 2013
It is hard to overstate the importance of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. At the heart of the law that ended decades of disenfranchisement in former Confederate states is Section 5, the “preclearance” provision. Section 5 requires jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to get prior federal approval for any changes to state voting laws. The necessity of this provision was clear: without it, states had been able to nullify the commands of the 15th Amendment by passing measures that were formally race-neutral but were discriminatory in practice.
Regrettably, the Supreme Court appears poised to eliminate one of the proudest achievements of American democracy. As Esquire‘s Charles Pierce puts it, striking down Section 5 would constitute “the final victory of the long march against the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement that began almost before the ink dried on the bill in 1965.”
The most remarkable example of the contemporary Republican hostility to civil rights came, unsurprisingly, from Antonin Scalia. Ensuring equal access to the ballot, asserted Scalia, represents “a phenomenon that has been called the perpetuation of racial entitlement.” As it happens, Scalia’s argument has precedent … in the white supremacist arguments made by the Supreme Court in the 19th Century when it was dismantling Reconstruction. In the Civil Rights Cases, the majority opinion sniffed as it struck down the Civil Rights Act of 1875 that “there must be some stage in the progress of his elevation when [the freed slave] takes the rank of a mere citizen and ceases to be the special favorite of the laws.” As Justice Harlan noted in dissent, this line of argument was nonsense: “What the nation, through Congress, has sought to accomplish in reference to [African-Americans] is what had already been done in every State of the Union for the white race—to secure and protect rights belonging to them as freemen and citizens, nothing more.” Harlan was right then, and he’s even more obviously right now. Ensuring equal access to the ballot does not represent a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” It simply provides the foundation for equal citizenship.
Scalia’s arguments about “racial entitlements” also represent an odd theory of democracy. The strong support for the VRA, Scalia argues, is just a product of the fact that “when a society enacts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the ordinary political process.” Note, first of all, the hostility evident in Scalia’s phrasing: he seems to take for granted that it’s an important goal to “get rid of” what he erroneously calls a “racial entitlement.” And leaving that aside, his argument perversely assumes the effectiveness of the bill and the political support it generated are reasons the Court should strike it down. This makes no sense. As Justice Breyer noted, it’s not irrational for legislators to want to continue to apply a remedy that has largely (but not fully) eradicated the disease of disenfranchisement. Nor is Scalia’s belief that politics compels legislators in every state to vote for the bill (a Republican would lose a Senate seat in Utah or Mississippi if he voted against it? Really?) particularly plausible.
Scalia has made similar arguments before. The last time the Supreme Court heard arguments about the VRA, Scalia argued that the 98-0 vote was irrelevant because “The Israeli supreme court … used to have a rule that if the death penalty was pronounced unanimously, it was invalid, because there must be something wrong there.” As is Scalia’s trademark, the argument is a superficially clever one that collapses on the slightest inspection. Most democratic jury systems—including the American one—are premised on the idea that a unanimous jury is more reliable one than a non-unanimous one, for the obvious reason that this is true. And while the unanimity of the Senate does not in and of itself ensure that the act is constitutional, it should certainly make the Court more reluctant to strike it down.
The rest of the points made by the conservative justices today made clear that not only are they likely to find Section 5 unconstitutional in this form, but in any possible form. They questioned whether a history of discrimination was sufficient reason to apply preclearance requirements to the nine states covered by Section 5. Could Congress avoid this problem by covering everyone? Apparently not. After the Solicitor General responded to Justice Kennedy’s question about whether the “preclearance device could be enacted to the entire United States” by saying that this would not be justified based on the current record, Kennedy responded “there is a federalism interest in making each state responsible” for enforcing voting rights.
Congress can’t win—given that Kennedy is the swing vote, whether the legislative body applies preclearance selectively or uniformly, its actions will likely be struck down by a Court that values “states’ rights” over fundamental human rights.
This is the wrong approach. The Fifteenth Amendment gives Congress broad discretion to enforce voting rights, and the Court should defer to to Congress barring much stronger arguments than are currently being advanced against the VRA. The relative success of the Act and the strong bipartisan support it enjoys are reasons to uphold it, not to strike it down. States remain capable of devising creative new ways to disenfrachise voters. And as Justice Scalia (perhaps inadvertently) let out of the bag, if the Court strikes it down it will not be because it is compelled to by the text of the Constitution, but because of conservative hostility to the idea of civil rights and a broad franchise.
By: Scott Lemieux, The American Prospect, February 27, 2013