The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in Shelby County, Alabama’s challenge of Sections 4 and 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The early consensus is that the key provisions of the seminal piece of civil rights legislation—which SCOTUSblog calls “history’s most successful civil rights law”—will be found, in the words of Justice Antonin Scalia, not to “comport with the Constitution.”
This being Scalia, there was more. In counter-argument, he also proffered his thesis on why Congress has repeatedly extended Section 5, most recently in 2006 with no opposition at all from the Senate: “[It] was 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 process.” His statement reportedly drew gasps, while outside the Court civil rights groups quickly condemned it. Bert W. Rein, Shelby’s attorney, could not be compelled to say he agreed with Scalia’s assessment. Justice Sonia Sotomayor later took a moment to point out what shouldn’t have needed pointing out, remarking that the right to vote is not a racial entitlement.