Thursday, April 30, 2009

Some Justices Think Systemic Racism is Gone

Justices are weighing whether or not to throw out the 2006 renewal of the Voting Rights Act. Its come down to liberals vs conservatives. I'm stuck wondering if our highest court really is as predictable as the political leanings of its membership. Does empirical evidence still have a place in modern law?

Let's check in with the liberals:
Justice David Souter, who was among the most active questioners in defense of the Voting Rights Act, said Coleman's claim seemed "to deny the empirical reality" of the contemporary instances of bias Congress documented in the states.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested by her questions that she, too, believed the law was necessary to prevent backsliding in voting rights. Similar sentiment was expressed by the two other liberal justices, John Paul Stevens and Stephen Breyer.
And quite the empirical reality there is. Take Voter ID laws, for example:
Texas is considering such a law. Unfortunately, these types of laws typically adversely affect the poor, people of color, people with disabilities and the elderly. Some estimates suggest that the number of eligible voters without acceptable identification is as high as 12 percent.
Note that Coleman, the attorney arguing against the Voting Rights Act, is representing a district in Texas. Voter ID legislation is one of many scurrilous tactics employed by the right wing to suppress votes. And this is done precisely because a legal avenue opened up:

The U.S. Supreme Court has said that states may require identification other than a voter registration card. That doesn't mean Texas should. It would be wrong to make voting more difficult for law-abiding citizens without good reason. Having enough votes to do it isn't a good reason.

So what do the conservative judges say?
The more conservative justices appeared to strongly believe the law has run its course. Chief Justice John Roberts said of Congress' repeated renewal of the 1965 act: "At some point, it begins to look like it's going to go on forever."

Justice Antonin Scalia said that much of the evidence of government bias against black people and other minorities was documented "a long time ago."
Just what universe does Justice Scalia live in?
Look, I understand the value of healthy debate and differences of opinion. But when some show flagrant disregard for the truth and remain impervious to evidence to the contrary, are they still qualified to act as judges? Its not as if the evidence presented was easily dismissable (emphasis mine):
Defending the law were Deputy U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal and Debo Adegbile of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Both lawyers emphasized the difficulty of bringing individual voting bias cases and said Congress wanted to ensure that unfair policies could be caught before they took effect.

Katyal said Congress compiled 16,000 pages of testimony and determined that its work in this area was not done.
16 thousand pages of testimony!

Respect for the truth and empirical evidence is central to a functioning judiciary. The conservative judges on our highest court, especially Scalia, are doing a fine job of undermining our confidence in the stability of the institution.

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