NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous Feb. 28 rebutted Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s assertion that reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act is “perpetuation of racial entitlement” by Congress and that the jurist should steer clear of speculating on lawmakers’ intent.

“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,” Jealous said after Scalia’s remarks during oral arguments on a Voting Rights Act challenge.

“Assaulting the Voting Rights Act, on the other hand, is an assault on America’s ability to be America for all Americans,” said Jealous of the nearly half-century-old law to reverse racially discriminatory voting policies. “While much has changed since 1965, the record is clear that discriminatory election practices still exist in counties like Shelby County and states like Alabama.

“Justice Scalia should refrain from speculating on the thoughts and motivations of the Congress and defer to the judgment of the overwhelming bipartisan majority that voted for reauthorization in 2006,” he said. 

During the oral arguments, Scalia noted that the overwhelmingly bipartisan reauthorizations of the Voting Rights Act in the past four decades was “very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that is called ‘perpetuation of racial entitlement’.” In a statement, Jealous noted that Scalia said that “whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.”

But Jealous noted that when the 109th Congress extended Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act for 35 years in 2006, national lawmakers were “compelled by 15,000 pages of evidence and testimony of discrimination. The reauthorization followed recent racially-motivated attacks on democracy by multiple jurisdictions.

“One notorious example was Kilmichael, Miss. where the all-white board of alderman and white mayor cancelled an election after it became clear that blacks had become a majority of their city’s electorate. In 2006, Ken Mehlman, the National Chairman of the Republican Party, joined his Democratic colleague in calling for reauthorization and referred to the Voting Rights Act as “one of the great moral achievements of the 20th Century.”

The NAACP, through its Alabama State Conference, is an intervener in the case before the Supreme Court, Shelby County v. Holder, and the Texas, South Carolina and Florida NAACP State Conferences have filed an amicus brief in support of Section 5.