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Feb 27 2013

Rising economic inequality and the “racial entitlement” of the Voting Rights Act

By Frederick Sparks

rosaparksstatueOn the day the statue honoring civil rights icon Rosa Parks was unveiled in the U.S. Capitol,  stark reminders  of persistent socio-economic disparities between blacks and whites remain.  And comments from a sitting Supreme Court justice show inexcusable blindness in high places.

A Brandeis University study found that the gap in racial wealth has tripled since the Reagan era, The gap between black and white wealth rose from $85,000 in 1984 to $236,500 in 1989, with the median net worth for white households at $265,000 versus $28,500 for black households.   The research reveals that the disparity in home ownership is a significant factor, with the homeownership rate for whites being 28% higher than the comparable rate for blacks. The study notes the higher rate of home equity growth for whites is attributable in part to the historical wealth advantages that make it far likely for white homeowners to receive family assistance or inheritance that allow them to both purchase their first homes sooner and make larger down payments and upfront payments which lower interest paid, as well as residential segregation which places a cap on home equity in majority black neighborhoods.  The disparities have also been exacerbated by the Great Recession and accompanying meltdown in the housing market.

Against this backdrop the Supreme Court is in the process of considering the constitutionality of provisions of the Voting Rights Act that require states and municipalities with a history of racial discrimination to seek preclearance from the Justice Department or a federal court before making changes to their voting laws.  Despite well-known voting problems during the most recent presidential election that appeared to disproportionately impact black voters, the plaintiffs are arguing that these enforcement positions are no longer necessary.  And Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia called the repeated reauthorization of Section 5 of the voting rights act  “a perpetuation of racial entitlement” which creates a situation that would spell political suicide for any poor politician voting against it.   Scalia’s comments so shocked fellow Justice Sonia Sotomayor that in the final moments of closing arguments she asked one of the lawyers for the challengers if he agreed with Scalia’s description of “racial entitlement”;  the lawyer declined to endorse Scalia’s statement.

Sotomayor also had perhaps the best comment of the day, directed towards attorneys representing Shelby County, Tenn, which is seeking to overturn the enforcement provisions : “Assuming I accept your premise, and there’s some question about that, that some portions of the South have changed, your county pretty much hasn’t,” Sotomayor said of Shelby County, which is 90 percent white. “In the period we’re talking about, it has many more discriminating -­- 240 discriminatory voting laws that were blocked by Section 5 objections. … You may be the wrong party bringing this.”  Thank you, wise Latina.

Handicappers however place the odds fairly high that Shelby county will prevail, given the 5 “conservative” justices who appear lined up to rule in their favor.

13 comments

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  1. 1
    Brandi Willaims

    I just got through dealing with a fanatical Mormon who called be ‘dark-minded’ and accused me of ‘redefining
    corruption’ after I called him out on his homophobia. I’m a Humanistic Jew who is an atheist What do you think
    about this?

  2. 2
    smrnda

    Given demographic changes that are occurring, it seems disenfranchisement is being pulled out as the tool to reduce the power of minority numbers in elections. When they can’t win, they out and out cheat.

    1. 2.1
      fredericksparks

      Exactly. Also see the plans to change the distribution of electoral college votes.

    2. 2.2
      Bree Crutch

      Do they know any other way?? Leveling the playing field decreases their chances of succeeding…so they ‘play’ with loaded dice.

  3. 3
    smhll

    And Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia called the repeated reauthorization of Section 5 of the voting rights act “a perpetuation of racial entitlement”

    My jaw dropped about a foot. The idea that people are ‘entitled’ to have uninfringed voting rights bothers Justice S somehow?

    1. 3.1
      fredericksparks

      It’s shocking even for him.

  4. 4
    SallyStrange

    Ugh, the total dysfunction of our government is discouraging and depressing. And Scalia’s racism seems to get ever more blatant.

  5. 5
    fredericksparks

    yeah he doesn’t seem to care much about masking it at this point.

  6. 6
    busterggi

    Scalia really needs to be reminded that certain states also had laws prohibiting Catholics from holding office &/or voting.

  7. 7
    leni

    @ fredericksparks- Rachel Maddow was on the Daily Show and made an interesting comment about Scalia. Basically she said that reading quotes from him doesn’t convey the message he sends when you see him pull this crap in person, which is that he’s a troll who clearly enjoys eliciting those gasps.

    The man more or less reduced the Supreme Court to the level of a Yahoo News comments section and appears to be proud of it.

  8. 8
    dickspringer

    Antonin Scalia should review the debates over immigration laws back in the early 1920′s. The laws that were adopted were designed to keep people like Scalia out. They established large quotas for people from the British Isles and Germany and small quotas for southern and eastern Europe.

  9. 9
    marcus

    I don’t know if this is true. My uncle who lived in Shelby County his whole life told me, when I asked why there were so few black people there, ( I grew up in Alabama in a county that was about 50/50) said that whenever black folks tried to settle there that they were immediately “burned out”. Since this would have been in the 30s and 40s it is not hard to believe (it would not have been hard to believe in the 50s, 60s or 70s either but it probably would have been documented).

  10. 10
    Brian Wibecan

    Minor correction: the Shelby County at the center of this case is (here) in Alabama, not Tennessee.

    Loved the quote from Sotomayor.

  1. 11
    Sagging Pants No Respect

    [...] when we have persistent wealth disparities between whites and blacks largely traceable to disparities in home ownership which are explained by far more factors that gangsta rap and sagging pants…when we have all these [...]

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