-By Sahil Kapur
February 27, 2013- In expressing his deep skepticism Wednesday for the constitutionality of a centerpiece of the Voting Rights Act, Justice Antonin Scalia questioned the motivations of Congress for repeatedly reauthorizing it since it was initially passed in 1965.
“I don’t think there is anything to be gained by any Senator to vote against continuation of this act,” Scalia said during oral arguments in Shelby County v. Holder. “They are going to lose votes if they do not reenact the Voting Rights Act. Even the name of it is wonderful — the Voting Rights Act. Who is going to vote against that in the future?”
At issue was the constitutionality of Section 5 of the 1965 law, which requires state and local governments with a history of racial discrimination to pre-clear any changes to their voting laws with the Justice Department prior to enacting them.
Congress has renewed the law four times, most recently in 2006 for a period of 25 years. The margin of victory was 98-0 in the Senate and 390-33 in the House.
Scalia attributed the repeated renewal of Section 5 to a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” He said, “Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who asked many questions in defense of the law, appeared taken aback by Scalia’s insinuation. In the final moments of oral argument, she asked Bert Rein, the lawyer for the challengers, if he agrees.