Our Opinion: Voting rights in jeopardy


The Voting Rights Act of 1965, which has for nearly half a century protected the hard-won rights of minority voters, may be doomed given the prejudices of the U.S. Supreme Court's activist right wing. Just as disconcerting is the revelation that Chief Justice John Roberts doesn't know what he is talking about.

Justice Roberts, in arguing Wednesday that the law requiring several states, most in the Deep South, with a history of discriminating against minorities get federal approval before making changes in their voting laws, claimed that Massachusetts has the worst ratio of white voter turnout to African-American turnout of any state in the nation. The justice did not offer a basis for this claim and his office could not provide one Thursday when requested to do so by Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin. Mr. Galvin has asked for an apology from the chief justice for what he describes as a slur on the state.

Justice Antonin Scalia described the act as a "perpetuation of racial entitlement," apparently indicating that he doesn't believe that blacks are entitled to vote. The justice surely misses the glory days of segregation. Justice Anthony Kennedy glibly observed that "times change," but in this case they haven't. Justice Kennedy must not have noted the determined effort in Florida, Pennsylvania and elsewhere to construct roadblocks to discourage African-Americans and other minorities from voting (and voting Democratic) in last November's elections.

Since 1965, Congress has consistently extended the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and done so on a bipartisan basis. Now because one county in Alabama wants to go back to business as usual and has challenged the law, the court's five right-wing judicial activists appear poised once again to legislate from the bench. If or when that happens, open season will be declared on civil rights victories gained through blood and courage by state and federal officials who, like Justice Scalia, long for the old days when minorities knew their place.


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