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Will Roberts Court Light a Fire in Gutting the Voting Rights Act?

Tom Hall: The Roberts Court’s formal gutting of the 1965 Voting Rights Act will be announced later this spring, after the weather has warmed up, after the school year has ended. After young black men in cities around the nation will join their fathers, standing on line to apply for jobs they won’t be given.
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The Watts riot took place in August, 1965. The Rodney King riot started in April, 1992. In both cases, and in Detroit, Miami, and other cities, comfortable outdoor weather provided the setting for economically exploited, educationally oppressed, opportunity deprived people to vent their hurt, frustration, and anger.

roberts court

In 1965 and 1992, riots were touched off by incidents perceived to be symptomatic of social conditions that enforced discrimination and exploitation. The summer of 2013 could be a year in which another incident spawns new expressions of outrage, hurt, and hopelessness.

In March, five Tea Party ‘justices’ on the United States Supreme Court indicated during oral arguments that they intend to dismiss voting by black U.S. citizens as merely a “racial entitlement," unworthy of protection like the “fundamental right” to vote that white citizens enjoy. The Court’s formal gutting of the 1965 Voting Rights Act will be announced later this spring, after the weather has warmed up, after the school year has ended. After young black men in cities around the nation will join their fathers, standing on line to apply for jobs they won’t be given.

But the decision of John Roberts and his Tea Party cohorts have already led to political reactions. At the CPAC convention, Tea Bag Republican Scott Terry forthrightly stated the Party’s desire to return to the days of legally enforced segregation and subjugation. Mr. Terry later stated the Tea Bag Republican Party position that blacks should vote in Africa, not in the United States.

In 1965, TV news was still using 16-mm film to cover riots -- and the Vietnam War. It took hours to transport the film from the field to developing tanks, then to develop and edit it before sharing it with the nation. By 1992, microwave trucks rapidly transmitted videotaped images to the world. We didn’t have the internet, cell phone cameras, or social media in 1992.

In 2013, within minutes of the Supreme Court arguments, the internet and social media had informed the world that five members of the Court had decided that black voting is different from white voting. Whites have the right to vote. Blacks have only a statutory “racial entitlement” that has now outlived its usefulness, and should be eradicated. For many people, John Roberts might be seen as striving to cast himself as the modern day Roger Taney.

Roger Taney was the chief Justice of the Supreme Court who pronounced, in 1857, that Dred Scott, like all black people, could not enjoy the benefits of citizenship. Taney wrote that blacks are beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” 60 U.S. at 407. Today’s Supreme Court is similarly poised to announce that blacks don’t have voting “rights” like white people, but can be granted a voting “entitlement” by a beneficent white society.

chief justice roger taney

Chief Justice Roger Taney

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Roberts and Taney have some similarities in their approach to the issues before the Court. Taney stated that blacks couldn’t have citizenship rights because they are inferior beings. As one of the dissenting justices pointed out, at the time the Constitution was written and the nation was formed, blacks could be citizens and could vote in five of the original 13 colonies. Taney simply chose to ignore this truth, to accomplish his political goal.

Roberts announced from the bench that he had statistics exculpating southern states of the charge of racism. Roberts has a gaggle of law clerks to do research for him, which Taney didn’t have. He has computer access to research databases, results, and analyses that Taney could not dream of. Both the computer research and the law clerks who help prepare Roberts for arguments told him that the statistics on which he relied were bogus, false, discredited by researchers and analysts – simply wrong. But, like Taney, Roberts chose to state “facts” that he knew were false, in order to achieve a political goal.

Taney and Roberts have similarities, but they also have differences. Taney lived in a time when most white people sincerely believed that non-whites were inferior. Scientists and religious scholars affirmed the belief that negroes were biologically unsuited to anything but manual labor, that chinamen were naturally inclined to drug dependence, and that all the swarthy southern Europeans, like Spaniards and Italians, were unable to control their passions and lusts sufficiently to include in ‘polite’ society. The same people disdained the subhuman Irish for their natural indolence and drunkenness.

Roberts grew up in lily white Indiana, but went through modern schools, learning that racial biases have no biological support. As a law student, Roberts had the opportunity to study the legal cases that have disproven factual assertions of black, Latino and Asian inferiority. Yet since his earliest days as a foot soldier in Reagan’s campaigns to undo civil rights, Roberts has pushed to repeal or overturn the 20th Century’s civil rights progress at every chance he got.

Taney’s decision was based in a sincere, if wrong, belief in white superiority. Taney thought the Dred Scott decision would bring the nation together by settling the slavery issue. Roberts has no such beliefs. Robert’s decisions are based in pure business economics. He supports the suppression of black voting rights, and the rollback of civil rights generally, because it is economically beneficial to the class that he serves.

This spring, the Tea Party ‘justices’ on the Supreme Court will announce two decisions rolling back civil rights. In the first, they will strike down admissions standards at University of Texas. In the second they will ratify Shelby County, Alabama’s express gerrymandering of voting districts to prevent black candidates from being elected.

And what of their victims? What of those who have suffered the most during the Bush depression? As the 1% has reaped ever greater profits, the lowest 10%, and the lower middle class have been economically devastated. How will they react to learning that the U.S. Supreme Court has added legal disenfranchisement, and an end to affirmative action, onto the economic burden they already carry? Will John Roberts’ zeal to be the 21st Century’s Roger Taney provide a spark that rekindles the summers of 1965 and 1992?

Tom Hall

Tom Hall

Tuesday, 26 March 2013