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Scalia: Chief Judicial Activist?

Antonin Scalia, just a few days ago:

In a speech to lawyers gathered June 21 in Asheville, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia decried judicial activism.

That was to the North Carolina Bar Association on Friday.  But today, Scalia and his colleagues struck down a law enacted by a 98-0 vote in the usually fractious Senate. Commonweal's editors predicted this "clear judicial activism" in their March 5 editorial. Now perhaps Commonweal's own legal experts can weigh in: Is Shelby County v. Holder the most "activist" Supreme Court decision of all time?

Let's see what the Senate's leader was saying about the Voting Rights Act all the way back in 2006:

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) called the vote a major success. "The Voting Rights Act has worked," he said. "We need to build upon that progress by extending expiring provisions."

Indeed, the Voting Rights Act has, on the whole, worked -- a fact demonstrated clearly by the ruling itself. Has it worked so well that it is no longer needed? This is unthinkable, as demonstrated by the long litany of abuses in Ginsburg's dissent, many of them from the 2000's. This is not even to mention more recent attempts to suppress voter turnout, as discussed in this 2012 Commonweal editorial.

Recall that during oral arguments, Scalia referred to the Voting Rights Act as the "perpetuation of racial entitlement." That inaccurate and offensive remark was likely to be forgotten over time, but with today's ruling, it will probably become the most memorable and quoted line of Scalia's career. 

In the previous words of Commonweal's editors:

Scalia’s offhand reference to the “perpetuation of racial entitlement” was another startling reminder of why the VRA is necessary. The federal government goes to great lengths to ensure equal representation not as a generous gift to racial minorities, but because the right of all to vote and be counted is fundamental to our political system.

A right, not a gift.

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conservative and liberal theologians.

The ability to know and to assert with utter confidence what God can and cannot countenance must be one of those charisms I hear so much about. It's a little surprising how many people seem to have this one.

Last week the Supreme Court Ruled that states could not require proof of citizenship to register to vote in federal elections. The decision of the court was written by Justice Scalia

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/17/us-usa-court-voters-idUSBRE95G...

I haven't looked into what Texas proposes to do but, on the surface, I don't see how this week's ruling on the Voting Rights Act helps them to get around last week' ruling.

I think the worrysome issues are redistricting, hours and locations of polling places, early voting, absentee voting, and foreign language ballots and instructions

 

First, my understanding---like yours---is that everyone gets issued a birth certificate.  You have a copy of yours because you needed one to get "a marriage license and a passport".  Young adults---particularly low-income young adults---very often have never needed to get a marriage license or a passport, because they've not been married and they've not travelled to other countries. 

Young adults can, should, and do get married, and in fact some of them do travel outside the country - one of the reasons being that some of them are the children of immigrants and they travel to their country of family origin to visit extended family (as when they get married, or have a baby).  But the point is that, whatever the impetus - including to be able to vote - getting one's birth certificate is not an overwhelming burden.  It's a hoop to jump through that is no more difficult, and in some cases easier, than other hoops we jump through to keep our lives afloat.  It is no more difficult for the poor than for the middle-class or rich; it is no more difficult for the old than the young; it is no more difficult for blacks than for whites; and it is no more difficult for the children of immigrants than it is for the children of native-born Americans.  It is an equal-opportunity hoop to jump through.  

Your comment about a federal court blocking the Texas voter ID law is confusing, as the story to which you had linked previously, which is my sole source for knowing anything about Texas and voter ID laws, seemed to imply that, now that the pertinent provision of the VRA is dead, Texas will move forward with its voter ID law.  Is the law live now, or is it blocked by a federal court?

First, my understanding---like yours---is that everyone gets issued a birth certificate.  You have a copy of yours because you needed one to get "a marriage license and a passport".  Young adults---particularly low-income young adults---very often have never needed to get a marriage license or a passport, because they've not been married and they've not travelled to other countries. 

Young adults can, should, and do get married, and in fact some of them do travel outside the country - one of the reasons being that some of them are the children of immigrants and they travel to their country of family origin to visit extended family (as when they get married, or have a baby).  But the point is that, whatever the impetus - including to be able to vote - getting one's birth certificate is not an overwhelming burden.  It's a hoop to jump through that is no more difficult, and in some cases easier, than other hoops we jump through to keep our lives afloat.  It is no more difficult for the poor than for the middle-class or rich; it is no more difficult for the old than the young; it is no more difficult for blacks than for whites; and it is no more difficult for the children of immigrants than it is for the children of native-born Americans.  It is an equal-opportunity hoop to jump through.  

Your comment about a federal court blocking the Texas voter ID law is confusing, as the story to which you had linked previously, which is my sole source for knowing anything about Texas and voter ID laws, seemed to imply that, now that the pertinent provision of the VRA is dead, Texas will move forward with its voter ID law.  Is the law live now, or is it blocked by a federal court?

Instructions for getting a birth certificate in Texas are here.

 

I think the worrysome issues are redistricting, hours and locations of polling places, early voting, absentee voting, and foreign language ballots and instructions

As a resident of Illinois, I just want to knote that redistricting / gerrymandering is a bipartisan sport.

 

The probability that fraud falsified any election result is exceedingly small

So is the possibility that someone will blow up an airplane with his shoe, yet it has been thought prudent for all of us to take ours off every time we go through airport security.  Personally, I think voter fraud is more likely than shoe bombs.  And I think it happens more frequently than it is detected (admittedly, this last opinion may be colored by my living in Illinois, but on occasion I see newspapers from other locales that lead me to believe that political corruption isn't unique to my part of the country).

 

Jim P. --

You don't seem to understand just how difficult it is to be very poor, and there are many very poor Americans.  Many of them work two jobs, and some work three.  People like them cannot afford to take off an afternoon to go down to City Hall and register. Saturday elections don't help because they're working then too.   Further, bus fare can cost them a meal or two, e.g., here bus and trolley fare is $1.25 one way and 25 cents per transfer.

 

Ann - I have been poor - I am very grateful that I am not poor now.  Yes, it is difficult - I have lived the difficulties myself, and I minister to those who are poor.  The difficulties you described would apply no matter what the election rules are.  My own experience is that most poor adults have a photo ID already - they have already needed to obtain one in order to jump through all the degrading hoops that we make the poor jump through in order to get subsidized food, housing and other forms of public assistance.  For those that don't have a photo ID already, in Texas (and Illinois) there is an option to get a birth certificate by mail (a birth certificate being one of several acceptable proofs of eligibility).  Mail service seems to deteriorate every year, but it is still democratic - it is still the same for the poor, the middle class and the rich. 

  

Jim P, --

I suppose our differences in outlook are largely due to the amount and depth of poverty where we come from.  Historically New Orleans has been a city with a relatively large middle-middle class but an extremely large poor one, and the poor are poorer than in other places, up until Katrina anyway.  Since Katrina housing has become even more expensive (so many houses were destroyed),  and something like a third of the former citizens haven't been able to return, though that proportion keeps changing.  We're not typical, at any rate. 

Still, voting problems here don't seem to be the worst.  Texas and So. Carolina are.  But we'll see -- it's the State voting laws that cause the problems, and I don't doubt we'll see some chicanery going on in the legislature (depending on what Congress does, or more likely, doesn't get around to doing).  But  who knows.  Education in the state has been improving a lot in the last 10 years, though it still has far to go.  We'll see if that makes a difference in civic participation.  (When you can't read forms you can't fill them out.)

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