WASHINGTON WATCH: Voting Rights Under Attack; Justice Scalia Says Blacks Right To Vote Is A “Racial Entitlement” (VIDEO)

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments dealing with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act this past week. During the hearing Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia called African Americans right to vote a “racial entitlement.”

Benjamin Jealous, president of the NAACP and Ohio Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus joined Roland Martin on the set of Washington Watch to discuss the new challenge to the Voting Rights Act, Justice Scalia’s comments and more.

MR. MARTIN:  Hello and welcome to “Washington Watch.”

This week in the nation’s capital reminded us that our financial security and our very right to vote are under threatfrom conservatives in Congress, as well as the Supreme Court.  On Friday, billions of dollars in automatic spending cuts, known as “sequestration,” went into effect.  Many of those cuts will affect communities of color in a huge way.

We’ll discuss that later in the show; but, first, a voting rights rally was held Wednesday on the steps of the Supreme Court.  Inside, the justices seemed on their way to overturning key protections for minority groups contained in the Voting Rights Act, first passed in 1965.  The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., was a the White House as the bill was signed into law; and his son, Martin Luther King, III, spoke at Wednesday’s rally.


MR. MARTIN KING, III:  If the Court chooses to strike down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, then we understand what our mission is.  We should be making it easier for folk to vote – not put more restrictions in place to keep people from voting.  That is what my dad and others gave their lives for.

REV. AL SHARPTON:  I think that the height of insult to me is when Justice Scalia said this seems to be a continuation or propensity, of “’racial entitlement.”

No, Justice Scalia.  What it is is the continued discrimination, is the propensity of white racial entitlement to stop us from voting.

MR. BENJAMIN JEALOUS:  We have, in the past two years, seen the greatest legislative attack on the right to vote that we have seen in more than a century.  And yet and still, we find ourselves back at the Supreme Court, staring at the Senate where, in 2006, 98 out of a hundred senators – virtually all the Republicans and all the Democrats – stood up and said, “We must reauthorize the Voting Rights Act.”


MR. MARTIN:  That was Benjamin Jealous, president of the NAACP, and he’s here with us today along with Ohio Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Folks, welcome back to “Washington Watch.”

REP. MARCIA FUDGE:  Thank you.

MR. JEALOUS:  Thank you.

REP. FUDGE:  Happy to be here.

MR. MARTIN:  This was a stunning week in terms of the juxtaposition of the Supreme Court having oral arguments dealing with Section 5, and right across the street at the exact, same time, the dedication of a statue to Rosa Parks in Statuary Hall.  And you heard Mitch McConnell and John Boehner there in Congress, talking about her courage when it came to fighting for what’s right and standing up for the right to vote, knowing full well what was happening across the street.

REP. FUDGE:  Right.

MR. JEALOUS:  Yes.  Yes.

No, look, we’re in a weird moment, when it feels like history can move two ways at once, and it’s kind of swirling around at the center.  And you felt that in Washington this week.

To hear Scalia refer to the protection of voting rights as a “racial entitlement” with no sense of irony – no sense of irony – right – that – right between me and Scalia was John Lewis, and you could just feel the oxygen get pulled out of the room.  And I was trying to just think how stunning it must be.  I mean he had his skull cracked on the bridge from – you know, coming out of Selma because he was fighting against racial entitlement, because he was fighting against segregation.

MR. MARTIN:  In fact, today, in terms of in Selma, they’re having the reenactment of that march –

MR. JEALOUS:  That’s right.

MR. MARTIN:  — and Jimmy Lee Jackson was killed because he was trying to register folks to vote.

REP. FUDGE:  You know what, Roland?  What really bothers me more than any of it is just the hypocrisy.  To stand in Statuary Hall and talk about Rosa Parks, knowing that some of these very same people are doing everything they possibly can do to make it difficult for people to vote:  poor people, students, the elderly, minorities; and then we go and sit in the Supreme Court.  Ben and I were both sitting there.

We knew that we were going to probably be in a situation where there would be four people that –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

REP. FUDGE:  — strongly were supportive and four that were not.  But to hear Scalia say what he said without even any hesitation

MR. JEALOUS:  That’s right.

REP. FUDGE:  — and to sit and allow that to be said without being challenged – you know who challenged it?  Sotomayor – not the only African-American on the bench.

MR. JEALOUS:  That’s right.  I mean Thomas was sitting right next to him.  Now, you have eight of the nine justices fully engaged.  You have one that’s silent –

MR. MARTIN:  And his deal is –

MR. JEALOUS:  — Clarence Thomas.

MR. MARTIN:  — “Hey, allow the lawyers to talk.  No need to sit there and ask questions.”

But you would think something – the Georgia in him – something would have stirred up and said, “Now, wait a minute.  Hold up, now.”

REP. FUDGE:  But even –

MR. MARTIN:  “I mean y’all know you my guy, but” –

REP. FUDGE:  — but, Roland, even the law should have made him say something.  The Supreme Court’s only responsibility is to really determine if there is a constitutional issue.  For them to ask questions like, “Do you think people in the South are more racist than people in the North?” was irrelevant.  The question before them is not whether Section 5 should be expanded – which, in fact, it should be – but the question is is Section 5 constitutional, even in the states –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

REP. FUDGE:  — where they are challenging it – which is the question, and they talked all around it.

MR. MARTIN:  What also amazed me, though, when you look at those particular questions [is], in essence, they were also challenging the fact that Congress overwhelmingly


MR. MARTIN:  — passed –

MR. JEALOUS:  Well, that was the thing.

MR. MARTIN:  — the reauthorization –

MR. JEALOUS:  That was – because what Scalia actually did is he built up to his “racial”

REP. FUDGE:  That’s right.

MR. JEALOUS:  — “entitlement” remarks, and he did it by saying, “Look, back when this was passed, there were 18 senators who opposed it.  Then you fast-forward to the ’70s, and there’s nine, and then there’s eight, and then there’s two who abstained in ’98 – [unintelligible].”  And rather than saying it was because they had 15,000 pages of testimony, or the fact that right before this in 2008 – I mean in 2006, in Kilmichael, Mississippi, in the early 2000s, they cancelled an election because they were going to have their first black majority – rather than point to that, he says it’s because of this phenomenon of “racial entitlement.”  And he talks about how, basically, the legislators don’t –

MR. MARTIN:  White folks were scared to vote against it –

REP. FUDGE:  Exactly.

MR. MARTIN:  — because they’d be called bigots.

MR. JEALOUS:  — as if these very same men – many of them — don’t oppose affirmative action.

REP. FUDGE:  Right.  These very same people who held up VAWA for 18 months.  The very same people who wanted to approve all of these laws across our states talking about voter ID, no early vote; all of these same people who supported all of that, now all of a sudden they’re afraid to vote against something?

MR. MARTIN:  The Court will rule in – [is] expected to rule by June.  Most folks think that there’re five votes there to make changes to it.  For African-Americans, what’s next?  And not just African-Americans –

MR. JEALOUS:  Sure.  First of all –

MR. MARTIN:  — because also, we[’ve] got to r- —

MR. JEALOUS:  — I wouldn’t be so sure –

MR. MARTIN:  — also, we[’ve] got to remind Hispanics –

REP. FUDGE:  I’m not so sure.

MR. MARTIN:  — and Vietnamese and others there are many other people who have been able to benefit from Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act –

MR. JEALOUS:  — oh, yeah.

MR. MARTIN:  — when you look at those multi-language ballots in other states as well.  So, it also shouldn’t be just black folks out here demanding –

REP. FUDGE:  Oh, absolutely.

MR. MARTIN:  — this be [upheld] –

MR. JEALOUS:  [Crosstalk] — that’s right.

MR. MARTIN:  — but, Ben, go right ahead.

MR. JEALOUS:  Yeah.  First of all, I wouldn’t be so sure.

MR. MARTIN:  Okay.

MR. JEALOUS:  Kennedy could go either way.  He asked questions that suggested he – he may go either way.  And, quite frankly, last time we were in there less than five years ago on the Texas MUD case, the – people were pretty dejected coming out of the –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. JEALOUS:  — Court; and, yet, we won.  So, there’s a real possibility that we win.

Either way, we have to recognize that voting rights are under attack in state capitols across the country.  We need to be engaged in pushing back.  We’ve had luck even getting some Republican senators to veto these bills when we’re engaged.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. JEALOUS:  And we have to be organized.  I mean one thing I’m very proud of is that the black community has consistently built – gone from strength to strength from, you know, ’96, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, in building up our participation.  We’ve got to keep doing that.

MR. MARTIN:  Congresswoman –


MR. MARTIN:  — although your state doesn’t fall under the VRA –

REP. FUDGE:  — absolutely.

MR. MARTIN:  — but, again – here’s an example – we saw –


MR. MARTIN:  — last year –


MR. MARTIN:  — the kinds of very clear actions.  They were all about preventing folks from accessing the ballot box.

REP. FUDGE:  Ohio ought to be covered by Section 5.  If you look, we had two lawsuits in the State of Ohio to preserve early voting.  We fought with our secretary of state for almost two years.  We had probably more actions against us in terms of trying to suppress the vote than they did in some southern states.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

REP. FUDGE:  So, it should be expanded.  There’s no question about that.

But I also want to say that in Congress, we have formed a coalition with the Hispanic Caucus, the Asian Pacific Caucus, the Progressive Caucus and the Black Caucus to fight these issues because we know it affects us all –

MR. MARTIN:  That’s right.

REP. FUDGE:  — as well as there are those of us who are already starting to plan meetings so that we can – if we find that the Supreme Court doesn’t do what we believe is right, form a legislative body that can put forth some legislation that we think will be helpful.

MR. MARTIN:  Well, we certainly haven’t stop talking about it on this show.  We’ve [been] pushing it, frankly, [for] all –

MR. JEALOUS:  Well, thank you for that.

MR. MARTIN:  — four years we’ve been here.  So, we appreciate that.

Ben, thanks a bunch.

Congresswoman, you’re going to be back later, talking –

REP. FUDGE:  I’ll be back.

MR. MARTIN:  — about sequestration.

Thanks a bunch.  We look forward –


MR. MARTIN:  — to having you back.

MR. JEALOUS:  All right.

REP. FUDGE:  My pleasure.

MR. JEALOUS:  Thank you.

MR. MARTIN:  Folks –

REP. FUDGE:  Thanks for having us.