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Supreme Court Set to Resurrect Jim Crow

My Thursday column:

In early March of 1857, the Roger B. Taney Supreme Court handed down its infamous ruling on the Scott v. Sandford case, also known as the Dred Scott decision. The Supremes decided 7-2 that African American slaves weren’t citizens of the United States and therefore didn’t enjoy any constitutional protections. Easily one of the most racist actions in the history of the federal government, the Court also ruled that slave owners were protected by the personal property clause of the Fifth Amendment.

Chief Justice Taney wrote: “[Dred Scott's petition] would give to persons of the negro race… the right to enter every other State whenever they pleased… to sojourn there as long as they pleased, to go where they pleased …the full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went.”

The horror! “Beings of an inferior order” (Taney’s phrase) running around with, you know, freedom. In other words, the Court wouldn’t allow African Americans to enjoy the rights and privileges of being free, constitutionally-protected citizens.

Fast forward to yesterday, nearly 156 years to the day following the Dred Scott decision. The Court heard arguments in the Shelby County v. Holder case which challenges the Voting Rights Act, specifically Section 5 mandating that certain states attain “preclearance” or approval from the Justice Department before enacting new election laws. [continue reading here]

  • D_C_Wilson

    I would worry too much about the Supreme Court ruling. The Jim Crow era will just be a stopover as republicans slide us all the way back to the Dark Ages.

  • mrbrink

    So, the Bush and Reagan appointees on the Roberts court think there’s no need for section 5 anymore?

    This case is BASED on the right of the states to freely restrict the vote and clear a pathway to violate unambiguous language in the constitution!

    The fact that they’ve agreed to hear a case that is specifically intended to restrict the vote and are engaging on behalf of an argument specifically intended to restrict the vote while claiming the law has worn out its usefulness is nothing short of astounding.

    I’m ashamed for them and embarrassed for what qualifies as superior intellect in right wing America.

    John Roberts is the Frank Drebin of umpiring balls and strikes. He’s out there doing cartwheels and back flips on the goddamn pitcher’s mound.

    • D_C_Wilson

      Well, at least Drebin managed to stop Reggie Jackson from killing the Queen in the end. Roberts is going to let Scalia kill democracy.

      • mrbrink

        As an umpire, though, he used a dust-vac to sweep home plate and punched a player in the head.

        • D_C_Wilson

          He also mangled the Star-Spangled Banner while Roberts mangled the presidential oath of office, twice.

          Hmmm. Maybe you’re onto something here.

  • muselet

    TPM reader JM says it best:

    Searching for consistency from Justice Scalia is a sucker’s chore, but his comments today are especially gobsmacking. This is someone whose entire mission in life is to torpedo the “living Constitution” and finish off the idea that legal meanings and judicial interpretations should change over time, adjusting to changing circumstances.

    By Scalia’s own logic, the Court never should have considered overturning the Voting Rights Act. It was clearly constitutional under the 15th Amendment when it first passed in 1965 – something no one on the Court even contests – so it’s clearly constitutional now. To claim otherwise, Scalia would have to don the hats of sociologist, historian, Black Studies scholar and political pundit – the kind of judicial cross-dressing for which he routinely excoriates other judges.


    Call that what it is, but it sure as hell isn’t originalism. It’s just lawless free-styling.


    • bphoon

      …Scalia would have to don the hats of sociologist, historian, Black
      Studies scholar and political pundit – the kind of judicial
      cross-dressing for which he routinely excoriates other judges.

      …and which he does himself on a regular basis.

      His contention (written elsewhere) that he can place himself into the mindset of 18th century men and so is uniquely qualified to divine the Constitution’s “original” meaning is hogwash, to put it politely. My question to him and other “originalists”: If the framers didn’t intend the Constitution to be interpreted and applied as changing times demand, why did they include Article V?

      • muselet

        The Originalist™ argument is that amendment is the only way the Constitution can be applied to changing times. It’s pure, unalloyed, 200-proof hooey, but that’s their argument.

        Of course The Originalists™ don’t mean a word of it, which is why Mr Justice Scalia engages in angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin arguments about the limits of the Second Amendment, and also why the selfsame Mr Justice Scalia derides the Voting Rights Act (which exists specifically to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment) as nothing more than “racial entitlements.”


    • D_C_Wilson

      Originalism is just the label Scalia picked up because “whatever serves the rightwing corporatist agenda” doesn’t go over as well on the rubber chicken circuit.

  • trgahan

    Ultimately, I don’t see the political success here for conservatives. What will this do other than make a few “red states” even redder while creating a massive backlash nationally and internationally? It seems to give the Democrats a great weapon to keep its traditional voting base fired up and motivated. What better way to get people to the polls than to have an immediate threat to their basic rights.

    Conservatives have long prospered because American’s aren’t paying attention to voting conditions in most districts and the disparity between white/affluent and minority/poor in number of polling places, quality of eq. etc. Now that will be center stage. It would put the voting process itself in the spotlight during the next few elections. I don’t think the conservative media entertainment complex is powerful enough to spin electoral wins that clearly only occurred because of legislative vote rigging.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Norris/1597765442 Michael Norris

      I really, really, want to agree with you–and I do. Maybe what I am really doing is hoping you are right.

    • D_C_Wilson

      We’ve got wingnuts openly calling for the end of women’s suffrage, they’re not worried about what they can spin. Their goal is to just win at all costs.

      • villemar

        I also think it is another manifestation of their complete and utter constitutional incapacity of doing anything other than double down in every situation. They’ve long since abandoned any effort in considering the long range implications of anything.

        Set the course to the heart of the sun!

  • GrafZeppelin127

    I guess this is what they mean by “taking [their] country back.” See, some people back in the ’60s “gave” “their” country to the nigras and other undesirables, by “giving” them “racial entitlements” like voting rights and access to public facilities. The only way to get “their” country “back” is to take all those “racial entitlements” away, so they are “free” to enjoy “their” country without having to share it with all those other people.