Is Antonin Scalia the Vilest Person in Washington?
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A day after Justice Antonin Scalia caused gasps in the Supreme Court gallery by saying the 1965 Voting Rights Act had become a “racial entitlement” no congressperson could vote against, Rachel Maddow told The Daily Show she was in the courtroom and Scalia clearly enjoyed tormenting people. “I think he does know how that sounds,” she said. “He’s a troll. He’s saying this for effect. He knows it’s offensive.”
There’s no shortage of badly behaving Republicans in Washington. There’s the take-or-leave-it congressional leadership, who constantly show they value rightwing ideology more than its impact on people. There are intransigent obstructionists, like the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, who believes the answer to gun violence is more guns. But Scalia isn’t simply another Republican bully; he may be the most venal and fascist Republican of all.
It’s one thing to be a political bully and enjoy it, as Scalia does. But it’s another to say that the other branches of government are broken because they’re not doing things he agrees with; and then abuse the power of his office to overthrow that governance and perpetuate his legacy. That’s close to how European despots acted before World War II.
Let’s unpack what Scalia said about the 1965 Voting Rights Act with an eye to seeing his method, not just his madness. It is the same backstory to his mocking outbursts over the years, whether telling law school students asking about Bush v. Gore to “get over it,” or arrogantly answering questions put by other justices to lawyers—such as 2008's Heller case where he coached libertarian lawyers and then wrote the opinion that for the first time in U.S. history said the Second Amendment included a personal right to a handgun at home.
Scalia has long had a visceral hatred of the democratic process. In 2000’s Bush v. Gore, which awarded the presidency to George W. Bush, he could barely contain himself in telling us there was no federal constitutional right to vote for president. He’s said the direct election of U.S. senators (the 17th Amendment) violated state sovereignty. After the Brady Bill created a national system of background checks for gun buyers, he wrote a majority opinion saying states didn’t have to participate in that system.
In all of this, Scalia boasts that he is a constitutional originalist, meaning he wants to see the law interpreted as he believes the founders intended. However, that boast falls apart when one sees that he is by far the most activist and radical of all the Court’s justices. His 2008 opinion expanding Second Amendment rights is a prime example of such revisionism.
The Voting Right Act
Republicans have been targeting the federal Voting Rights Act for years, because in the 16 states where it is law they cannot rig voting rules to give their party an advantage. In 2006, when Congress last reauthorized the law, not one senator voted against it. The House vote was 390-33. In 2012, there were numerous lawsuits involving the VRA, where the Justice Department intervened and won on behalf of minority voters.
The case that came before the Supreme Court last week focused on whether the law’s strongest tool—a section allowing the Justice Department or a Washington appeals court to reject changes in state voting laws—should stand. Republicans had argued that the U.S. had moved into a post-racial period in elections and Section 5 was not needed. Scalia surprised everyone by deepening that argument and essentially contending that Congress did not have the guts to vote against a law that had outgrow its usefulness.