By The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.
At one point during the U.S. Supreme Court’s hearing of a case challenging a provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act came a revealing comment from the high court’s most predictable arch conservative, Antonin Scalia.
Justice Scalia said the law now amounted to a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.”
The preposterousness of that conclusion was not lost, thankfully, on Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who quickly asked one of the lawyers representing the Alabamians challenging part of the act, “Do you think that the right to vote is a racial entitlement? Do you think that racial discrimination in voting has ended, that there is none anywhere?”
But any student of this nation’s history knows that discrimination against black citizens with regard to voting has been blatant and commonplace over time, particularly in the South.
It is a challenge from Shelby County, Ala., that has brought the issue to the fore.
All the justices acknowledge that progress has been made on that front, but they differ as to whether that part of the Voting Rights Act should be lifted. As veteran Justice Stephen Breyer said, “It’s gotten a lot better. A lot better. But it’s still there.”
It may not be a poll tax, but a voter ID law is clearly designed to benefit one party over another, and courts have struck down some.
North Carolina made more progress than most of its neighbors because of moderate governors and the influence of the University of North Carolina system, especially under the enlightened leadership of the late William Friday.
But discrimination is deceptive, and like a dormant virus it can be subject to an unpleasant recurrence.
The extension of the Voting Rights Act, a proud landmark in the civil rights movement, was overwhelmingly approved by Congress in 2006. It should stand, all parts of it, until that 25-year extension has expired.