Desiline Victor, the 102-year-old voter who received a standing ovation during President Obama’s State of the Union address, sent a letter to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia March 12 rebuking his characterization of the renewed Voting Rights Act as the “perpetuation of racial entitlement.”
Victor wrote that she was “shocked” by Scalia’s statements, which were made during verbal arguments on a key provision of the law in February.
“I thought you must not know what’s happening in this country,” she said in the letter, a copy of which was posted on The Huffington Post. “After learning more this year from the civil rights group, Advancement Project, I know that just as there were for me, there are barriers to voting for many people—especially people who are black or brown. I also know that the Voting Rights Act is a way to protect the votes of communities that still face these problems.”
In last year’s presidential election, Victor, a Haitian native and retired farmworker now living in North Miami, was forced to wait three hours then had to return later that evening before she was able to cast her ballot.
President Obama, while praising Victor’s perseverance, also said her experience was indicative of a broken election system.
“When Americans, no matter where they live or what their party, are denied [the right to vote] because they can’t afford to wait for five or six or seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals,” he said during February’s address.
In her letter, Victor said that while she stayed at the polls, there were many other voters whose voices were not heard because of extremely long lines and other barriers to voting. Such barriers are why the Voting Rights Act remains a vital tool, she said.
“I was born at a time when women were not allowed to vote in Haiti, nor the United States. After becoming a U.S. citizen, I was so proud to have a voice in this country. That is what inspired me to fight last year. But voting should never require such a fight. We need more make sure that all Americans can have their voices heard – we need the Voting Rights Act,” she wrote. “Justice Scalia, the Voting Rights Act is not a racial entitlement. It is an important protection that helps all Americans exercise their right to vote. It was put in place because, sadly, there are people in this country who don’t want everyone to have an equal voice at the ballot box.”
Along with Victor, several civil rights groups decried Scalia’s statements, which came during a hearing on the case Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, in which officials questioned the necessity and fairness of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires jurisdictions with a history of discrimination against minority voters to get federal clearance before making any changes to the election process.
The law and its provisions are not about racial entitlement, supporters say, but about protecting an American ideal—especially since discriminatory election practices still exists.
“Democracy is an American entitlement. Voting rights protection is an American entitlement. Guaranteed access to the ballot box is not the right of one race, one age group, or one economic class,” Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, said in a statement. “Assaulting the Voting Rights Act, on the other hand, is an assault on America's ability to be America for all Americans.”