Years from now, when the Supreme Court has come to its senses, justices then sitting will look back on the spring of 2013 in bewilderment. On what basis, they will wonder, did five conservative justices, professed believers in judicial restraint, reach out to grab the authority that the framers of the post-Civil War 14th and 15th Amendments had vested in Congress nearly a century and a half earlier “to enforce, by appropriate legislation” the right to equal protection and the right to vote. How on earth did it come to pass that the Supreme Court ruled a major provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 unconstitutional? You will have noticed that I’m making a premature assumption here about the outcome of a case, Shelby County v. Holder, that was argued just last week. Although I’m willing to bet that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has already drafted his 5-to-4 majority opinion, I’d be nothing but relieved if the court proves me wrong when it issues the decision sometime before the end of June. But except for a few wishful thinkers, everyone who witnessed the argument, read the transcript, or listened to the audio now expects the court to eviscerate the Voting Rights Act – and seriously harm itself in the process. As I made clear in my most recent column, I wasn’t expecting anything good to come out of this argument. But neither did I anticipate the ugliness that erupted from the bench. While Justice Antonin Scalia’s depiction of the Voting Rights Act as the “perpetuation of racial entitlement” quickly went viral (40 screens of Google hits, by the time I checked earlier this week), that was not even the half of it.
“Even the name of it is wonderful: the Voting Rights Act,” Justice Scalia said, his voice dripping with sarcasm as he suggested that only political correctness, rather than a principled commitment to protect the right to vote, had kept the disputed Section 5 of the act alive through four successive Congressional re-enactments. (And, he might have added and no doubt thought, four successive Supreme Court affirmations of the law’s constitutionality.)
Is it better to be black these days in Mississippi or in Massachusetts? Not being likely to find myself black in either state, I wouldn’t presume to say, but Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. exhibited no such diffidence. Without having asked a single question of Shelby County’s lawyer, Bert W. Rein, he taunted Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli with statistics purporting to show that Mississippi has the better record of African-American voter registration and turnout.
It was a “gotcha” performance beneath the dignity of a chief justice, and it turned out to be based on a – to put it charitably – misunderstanding of the data. The next day, the Massachusetts secretary of state, William F. Galvin, complained publicly that Chief Justice Roberts had used “phony statistics” in a “deceptive” and “truly disturbing” manner. (Mississippi, by the way, signed a brief urging the court to uphold Section 5.)
Full Article: ‘A Big New Power’ – NYTimes.com.