Hardball | February 27, 2013
>>> scalia calls voting an entitlement. let's play "hardball."
>>> good evening. i'm chris matthews in washington. let me start tonight with this. today in the arguments over the voting rights act justice scalia called the act, the voting rights act a racial entitlement. got that? entitlements. the friging right to vote is like food stamps . it's not actually. it's a right of citizens of the united states to vote shall not be denied to vote by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. that was ratified under president grant one of my heroes actually. as we know it was put into effect after a century of poll taxes , literacy tests and other gimmicks to keep blacks from voting. only because of the voting rights act of 1965 . yes, it has a wonderful name as you put it. the reason is not the words or written or spoken about.glish no. it's about its meaning. that the united states congress will ensure that people get to vote in places that they weren't before. and that does not refer only to the segregations of the past. it refers to the people out there in state capitals today sitting at bars and poker tables shouting the latest gimmick. they outbid each other with glee with their latest legislative squirm to convert into electoral minorities by denying the blacks the right to vote. right, justice scalia . it's not an entitlement. we're talking about the vote. not some government benefit. pete williams is the justice correspondent for nbc. thank you for joining us. you're such an expert on this. i have to ask you today and speak about the commentary from justice roberts , the chief justice, and justice scalia today. what was that all about?
>> i think we can assume that justice scalia based on what he said four years ago that he was going to vote against it that it seemed clear today. justice roberts , we are watching him closely as well. he asked a lot of questions of the obama administration's lawyer here saying which state does a better job of registering and getting a turnout of african-american voters compared to whites? he said the answer is mississippi. which does the worst? massachusetts. the point being he says the areas covered by the law may not be where the problem is. that's what the whole argument came down to today, i think, chris. as the voting rights act passed and reenacted in 2006 still a fit? does it still cover where the problems are? now now, the four liberal ossen the court said yet. it may not be a perfect fit , but it's close enough. they said the areas covered by the law represent about a quarter of the population, but account for more than half of all the successful voter discriminations lawsuits. the five conservatives seemed to be quite skeptical. not anl scalia and justice roberts but perhaps the critical vote justice kennedy . he said the times changed. now, it's hard to predict, chris, but it does appear the voting acts right is in trouble tonight. now, what will the supreme court do? if they do look over the abyss and decide they are going to strike down part of the most successful civil rights act ever, they may not strike down the preclearance requirement. that if you're a covered state you have to get permission from the federal government before you make any changes in your election laws. they could strike down the formula, the coverage map. and send it back to congress. but that would be politically explosive for congress to say okay let's see. now which areas do we want to cover under the law and which areas don't and shall we start including massachusetts and harrisburg as you mentioned? should we include all the areas in the south? that's the problem.
>> thank you. thanks for leaving that with us. i just spilled my coffee here. let's go with our guests now to talk about what this all means. we have julie fernandez right here. let's go to that right now. let's go to julie fernandez right now. and eugene robinson . thanks for joining us right now. let me ask you about this whole thing. if they kill it because it's unfair to certain states because it includes older states with civil rights histories in the past, but they're basically killing anything. so what they're saying is it's not perfect, so kill it. isn't that a bit inconsistent? in other words we won't have anything left.
>> it's very inconsistent. all the justices in the court acknowledge that section 5 is a very successful statute. and they asked hard questions about whether or not the coverage mechanism is still appropriate. but i think that we -- those of us working to protect the voting rights act itself, we have good answers to those hard questions about the continued pervasive racial discrimination that's going on in the covered jurisdictions about the flexibility of the coverage formula and the mechanism for deciding who's covered. and about how there are ways to address outside of the covered jurisdictions. i think the --
>> let's keep this simple. you're a lawyer. you're lawyering me here.
>> i'm sorry.
>> the bottom line is if you're black out there and you want to vote and you live in pennsylvania and they've been screwing around with voter i.d. cards or you live in florida and they're screwing around getting rid of sunday voting. what is killing voting rights going to do to those people? help them or hurt them or do nothing for them? don't you kill the whole spirit of the federal government jumping in on these cases?
>> if you get rid of section 5 on the voting rights act , you kill the -- if you decide section 5 is no longer needed you're taking the heart out of the --
>> gene, you grew up in south carolina and you're one of the states covered by this for good reason.
>> absolutely. for having good reason. look. my view is yes it's still needed in the states where it applies. and it's needed in other places as well. because there are places where during the last election cycle and previous election cycles we saw what looked to be system iic attempts to suppress the vote. in ohio, in pennsylvania , in other places that are not fully protected.
>> i understand your statement. i'd love it to cover pennsylvania and other states.
>> it doesn't make sense. the voting rights act is broad. it has a part that addresses zrejs in areas of the country. but this is a specific type of problem.
>> anyway, justice scalia really said stuff today. i think he said charged language. referring to the voting rights act the perpetual racial enentitlement. this is not the kind of question to leave to congress. they're going to lose vote ifs they vote against the voting rights act . en the name is wonderful. then sonia sotomayor challenged saying do you think section 5 was voted for because it was a racial entitlement? do you think racial discrimination has ended? there you have it. i mean, i don't know why scalia who's too bright to be doing this is giggling. why is he giggling using terms so loaded?
>> because he throws bombs. you know, from the bench. and that's what he does. and he uses the sort of loaded language . and i doubt that he could defend his choice of words that it's a racial entitlement. he knows it's protection of a right. but he's going to vote to knock it down. or it certainly seems that way. i think he was being provocative.
>> is it fair to say what we have is a crude instrument here that may not be a perfect fit because it doesn't address through section 5 all the cases like we've seen before like in harrisburg and tallahassee where they've been playing with voter laws, and texas. it doesn't effect them all but should we get rid of them? you're going to get rid of the only tool we have, section 5.
>> section 3 allows courts to decide if things are so bad in a state that's not currently covered, they can order that state or that county to have section 5 procured.
>> how do they do that? which court could do it?
>> any appellate court in america. it's been done 19 times since 1982 .
>> where have they done it? have they done it lately?
>> most lately in port chester , new york. but it's been in south dakota . new mexico.
>> what's holding up harrisburg ? they keep playing these.
>> if the federal government finds intentional discrimination --
>> i hope this doesn't offend you guys. people say because of we have an african- american president , that proves we don't need a voting rights act . is that just prima facie nonsense?
>> in f that offended me -- you can't read it on the air. i mean, that's absurd. it's ridiculous. it was a huge step that barack obama was elected president twice. that's a huge step in our 400-year struggle with race and racial discrimination . but it doesn't solve the whole problem. of course not.
>> and it doesn't solve the problem where the voting rights act is so powerful. police juries, city councils .
>> at the same time the voting rights act was being challenged at the supreme court today, up on capitol hill the work of rosa parks was being honored. there it is. a statue of parks will sit in statutory hall. the first statue committed by congress in 140 years actually. president obama paid tribute to rosa parks . let's listen to the president.
>> rosa parks ' single act of disobedience laumpbled a movement. the tired feet of those who walked the dusty roads of montgomery helped a nation see that to which it had once been blind. it is because of these men and women that i stand here today.
>> well, her statue will be there forever now.
>> it will be and it should be. we can't forget where we came from. we've been on a long struggle in this country to try and have racial equality , live up to our promise. the voting rights act is one of the key things that helped us get to where we are. let's not stop now.
>> i can't put it better than that.
>> thanks for joining us.
>>> coming up, look what's happening to the public's perception about guns. a sharp increase. that's good. in the number of people that want to see stricter gun laws . and today there was deep emotion and moving testimony from a parent of newtown massacre victims.
>>> plus a lot of republicans want to see the big cuts that are due to hit on friday. and right now they're the ones taking the heat. if the cuts kick in and the crisis drags on, i think the public will blame president obama as well. and i think the republicans are counting on just that. a long, miserable haul they hope will hurt him.
>>> and the new mccarthyism. new tongues wagging and congratulating everything they did to stop and perhaps ruin the reputation of chuck hagel for awhile. even after it was inevitable. they kept it up just to screw up the government, hurt its functioning, and smear a man. those are the facts. we'll document them.
>>> finally kfc or chick-fil-a, bagels and croissants or doughnuts? are you what you eat? what you eat may be determined by who you vote for. isn't that interesting? we'll show the parallel how we go to fast food stores and vote. this is "hardball," the