Saturday, March 2, 2013

More Details On Scalia's Racism

I think a lot of liberals misunderstood the comments Scalia made Wednesday. There is a perception that Scalia called securing the right of an individual to vote a "racial entitlement." I'm confident that is not what he was saying, and that's why I didn't address it in my post. But it turns out what he was saying was just as offensive. I think it's worth some more clarification.

Rather than referring to the rights of individuals to vote, Scalia was discussing the collective distribution of political power across the United States. He demonstrated this with his bizarre argument that the four renewals of the Voting Rights Act with successively less opposition each time reveal a troubling institutionalization of "racial entitlement." As the Act has become less needed, he argues, it has become more sacrosanct, and politicians dare not vote against it. This is the basis for the "racial entitlement" he worries about.

Scalia then explicitly stated the nature of this entitlement: "There are certain districts in the House that are black districts by law just about now." He goes on to say that because politicians won't vote against something that sounds as wonderful as "The Voting Rights Act," the Supreme Court must act for them and strike down this unfair racial entitlement. It's clear he is talking about the collective distribution of racial power. In his mind this law produces an unfair amount of representation for minorities.

Scalia does not mention the corollary of the fact that there are "black districts by law just about now." There are many more districts that are overwhelmingly white and thus are "white" districts in much the same way the other districts are "black." In fact, as Dylan Matthews details, there are legitimate questions to be asked about how the Voting Rights Act is applied and whether it is enhancing minority power as much as it could. In some southern states, for example, Republicans have redistricted all white Democrats out of office and the congressional delegation is dominated by conservative white Republicans and a few black Democrats from minority-majority districts. Does this really give meaningful representation?

If Scalia had made that argument no one would have a problem with what he said. Perhaps, for example, 10 districts with 30% minority population would provide better representation than 5 districts with 60%. We should be thinking of ways to make our system more democratic. But Scalia was arguing the opposite point, that despite minorities' under-representation in elective office, we need to get rid of this "racial entitlement." That is every bit as offensive and racist as it would have been if he had argued, as some liberals seem to think he did, that the individual right to vote is a racial entitlement.

Again, the key context for this is that minorities have much less power, many fewer elective offices, than their share of the population. Whites (especially rural conservative whites because of the way our senate and electoral college is structured) possess power disproportionate to their numbers.  That is the primary racial entitlement that exists in our system. Thus Scalia's view is utterly incoherent unless it starts with the racist assumption that it is right for whites to have disproportionate power.

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