HI JUSTICE SCALIA. I’M A LATINA AND I LIKE BEING ABLE TO VOTE.
In the same week that I cast my ballot for Los Angeles mayor for the first time, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia sat on the highest court in the land and characterized the protections afforded to people like me so that I would be able to cast that ballot as “entitlements.” His comments came during a hearing about whether Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (which requires “preclearance” of changes to voting rules in states with a history of discrimination to clear the Justice Department first) will stand, or be struck down.
I’m certainly not of the mind that voting is an entitlement, I’m rather sure I remember that explicitly being a right — something guaranteed to citizens of the oft cited “free country” in which we live. And being a woman, being the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, I recognize the importance of being able to vote, for the fact that less than 100 years ago I wouldn’t legally be able to do it.
I’m not exactly sure why Justice Scalia is attempting to legislate from the bench on this particular issue, why he explained away the fact that the legislation was enthusiastically re-authorized in 2006 by Congress by saying that an overwhelmingly white male body was somehow intimidated by minorities into voting on its behalf for the legislation.
It seems that he is following the lead of 33 states that passed voter ID laws as of 2012, with sights set on the poor and minority voters (who often tend to vote Democrat). It seems that, unlike me, Justice Scalia has forgotten that there are people living in our country today who were never allowed to vote, that there were billboards and phone calls across the country attempting to thwart minority voters with disinformation, that the Voting Rights Act exists for a reason.
I wonder sometimes the kind of life that Justice Scalia has led that allows him to feel so strongly in the right. He seems to have the kind of attitude one develops from a position of power — from a place where no one ever tells you “no” — and if they do, you are in a position to override them. This might explain why it was the female justices — Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — who bore down so hard on those trying to dismantle the VRA. Unless you are born in this country with white male privilege, you very clearly recognize the limits placed on your power.
The Voting Rights Act does not exist for someone like Justice Scalia, plainly, this is why he feels no remorse in working to destroy it.
The chatter about the Supreme Court’s decision in this case largely points to the inevitable loss of Section 5. The court will strike down Section 5 and the United States will hop scotch back 50 years in a matter of seconds. The 33 states that pushed voter ID laws through won’t have to try so hard anymore. The gerrymandering in Texas and other states won’t have to be so well hidden. Politicians vested in keeping Latinos and other minorities right where they are won’t have to do as many summersaults to avoid looking guilty.
And me? What about me? I’m a Latina who actually really likes to vote, one who also enjoys working to get other people to vote, who believes wholeheartedly in the necessity of the VRA not because I had a bad experience while trying to vote — but because I can vote in the first place. So where do I sit in all of this, powerless to stop the Supreme Court from overturning this law?
I’ve decided that there’s only one thing I can do: make like women suffragists and civil rights heroes and do whatever I can.
Copyright 2013 by Sara Inés Calderón.
Sara Inés Calderón