Yesterday during the arguments before the Supreme Court on whether to preserve and protect Section 5 of the Great Society's watershed Voting Act of 1965, Justice Scalia interjected a very invidious obiter dictum. Commenting on the renewal of the Voting Act in 2006, Scalia said it was a "perpetuation of racial entitlement". In one fell swoop the flaming Conservative jurist managed to insult and dishonor not only the Black America community as a whole, but also the memories of the great leaders of the Civil Rights Movement of the past century: Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, A Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young. And the lone survivor of that so-called "Big Six", Congressman John Lewis of Georgia.
Ironically, on the same day that Scalia scoffed at the seminal importance of the Voting Act and implied Black Americans were demanding more than just the fundamental right that all Americans take for granted, another champion of civil rights was being honored in the Capitol Building. A statue of Rosa Parks was unveiled there and dedicated by President Obama. "We do well," the President said , " by placing a statue of her here. But we can do no greater honor to her memory than to carry forever the power of her principle and a courage born of conviction."
Congressman Lewis demonstrated the same kind of " courage born of conviction" when he as one of the original Freedom Riders was physically and brutally beaten riding through South Carolina and Alabama in the 1960s. In an interview during the 40th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, he reflected on what it all meant: "We were determined not to let any act of violence keep us from our goal. We knew our lives could be threatened but we had made up our minds not to turn back."
At a time when voter ID laws, redistricting, and the curtailing of opportunities to vote have threatened to disenfranchise Black and Hispanic Americans alike, this is not the time to turn back.
Or have a Supreme Court Justice suggest all the sacrifices and all the pain and suffering were merely about a "racial entitlement".