Gary May is a history professor at the University of Delaware and the author of “Bending Toward Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy.”
In the debate over the future of the Voting Rights Act, it sometimes becomes apparent that certain members of the Supreme Court are either oblivious to our nation’s recent history or willfully ignore it. Justice Antonin Scalia made this abundantly clear in his comments during the Feb. 27 oral argument in Shelby County v. Holder, statements that he repeated in a speech on April 15.
To Scalia, the Voting Rights Act — especially Section 5, which requires covered states to submit any changes in voting practices to the Justice Department or a Washington court for approval — is a “racial entitlement” and a violation of state sovereignty. In his view, it unfairly and unnecessarily treats seven Southern states, plus Alaska, Arizona and parts of six others, differently from states not covered by the act. This month, according to the Wall Street Journal, he called the act a form of “racial preferment” that affected only African Americans while ignoring the white population.