Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. (photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Did Scalia Really Say That He Was 'White and Proud?'
03 March 13
.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who startled colleagues this week with a reference to "racial entitlements," displays the same mindset as segregationist U.S. senators did when they fought civil rights legislation in the 1950s and 1960s, a powerful congressman and movement veteran said Friday.
The reference, as the high court heard a legal challenge to the 1965 Voting Rights Act, "absolutely shocked" South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, a senior member of the Democratic House leadership, he told Huffington Post in an interview.
"I'm not easily surprised by anything, but that took me to a place I haven't been in a long time," Clyburn said of Scalia's words from the bench. "What Justice Scalia said, to me, was ‘The 15th Amendment of the Constitution ain't got no concerns for me because I'm white and proud.'"
Scalia appeared scornful toward the landmark Voting Rights Act, which was renewed as recently as 2006 by a 99-0 vote of the U.S. Senate. He argued that lawmakers are afraid of the consequences of voting against it. "Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it's very difficult to get out of them through normal political processes," said the long-serving Supreme Court justice.
MSNBC pundit Rachel Maddow, on Wednesday, described Scalia as "a troll who loves to make people mad," arguing:
"He's saying this for effect. He knows it's offensive and he's going to get a gasp from the courtroom, which he got. And he loves it. He's like the guy in your blog comment thread who's using the n-word ... He's that kind of guy."
Clyburn is a cradle civil rights activist. He was elected president of a local NAACP youth chapter in South Carolina at the age of 12. He became the first African-American adviser to a South Carolina governor, and later served as the state's human rights commissioner.
As a young man in the cradle of the Confederacy, he told Huffington Post, Clyburn was "almost immune" from racist oratory heard around him, but added that he would never forget hearing the late Sen. Strom Thurmond defending his opposition to the 1957 Civil Rights Act by saying, as paraphrased, "Our Negroes are pleased with their plight."
Thurmond staged a 24-hour, 18-minute filibuster against the 1957 Civil Rights law, the longest in Senate history. He was an outspoken defender of Southern womanhood and longtime opponent of mixing the races. After Thurmond's death at age 100, it was revealed that as a young man he had sired a daughter with a servant in the Thurmond family home.
Scalia reminds Clyburn of Thurmond. Clyburn is also chilled by a bevy of state voting laws - in South Carolina, among other states - designed to make it more difficult to vote, and directed at voting habits (e.g. voting on Sundays) favored by African-American citizens.
"When you have in 2012 ... states making changes to their laws that you can look on their face and see that these changes will make it harder for minorities to have their votes affect the results that they intend, you say that we don't need (the Voting Rights Act) anymore? Is this some kind of entitlement?" he asked.
"Well, the Constitution of the U.S. is an entitlement for everybody."
The historical truth, Clyburn argued, is that the 1965 law has "had a positive impact on the voting rights of people traditionally denied the right to vote. To ignore that, to me, is beyond the pale. It means you went to the bench with an agenda."
"Playing around with the Voting Rights Act is playing with fire."