Melissa Harris-Perry | February 24, 2013
>>> style. good morning, i'm melissa harris-perry. they don't call the supreme court the highest court in the land for nothing. it's the final say over disputes over law in the constitution. with cases on same-sex marriage and voting rights coming before the court, this could prove to be a landmark year. let's start with the big gi. on wednesday, the supreme court will hear arguments in shelby county , alabama versus holder. just in case you were wondering, yes, it's attorney general, eric older the named defendant in the case. they are asking the court to review the 2006 decision to reauthorize section five of the voting rights under the 14th and 15th amendments and violated the tenth amendment and article four of the constitution. it may sound like legal mumbo jumbo . nine of the states covered as a whole and most of those in the south to get federal approval before a new election law is imposed. they challenge whether such a provision is necessary. the plaintiffs in the case don't think they need it anymore. oh, really? shelby county , let me remind you why you are one of the state that is were included under section five. you think you have come a long way since 1965 , images like this one are forever engrained in the minds of men and women who endured police attacks, racism and death for the right to vote. when president johnson signed the law in 1965 , americans of color get that right and states , like yours, could not use tactics to undermine it. he explained the importance of section five best on in the speech saying the heart of the act is plain. wherever by clear and objective standards, states and counties are using regulations or laws or tests to deny the right to vote, then they will be struck down. it is clear state officials intend to discriminate. the federal examiners will be sent in to register all voters. when the process of elimination is gone, the examiners will be withdrawn. for the first time millions of african- americans could vote without undue influence or violence. let's be honest about a few things. first, 1965 was not that long ago. even if the images are in black and white , it's around the corner historically. and the redistricting plan was as recent as 2006 . the process that will unravel or sustain a key act begins. the way the supreme court decides is vitally important and could leave many americans , particularly americans of color with less right to vote. there's a lot to unpack in this issue and i am not a lawyer. we went out and got a table full of them to help me out. joining me is sheryl lynn eiffel, president and director of the naacp legal fund. ken is a nerdland favorite, the chief justice professor of constitutional law at nyu law school . he didn't just spring forth from a rock. here is his adviser, professor of law at yale university and nick. there's not one way to read the law. here we all are. thank you so much. i have been trying to convince my producers. it made sense to have an insider discussion that allows us to have a broad conversation about what we are facing in this court. let's start with section five. akeel, second five is about the power of congress to do something vis-a-vis the state. is that what this is about?
>> exactly. the objection is, in part, you are singling out states to jump through federal hoops. the irony is the very process by what the 14th amendment the constitution was because they had rights rk voting rights and other rights, democratic rights in the process the 14thnd 15th amendments. certain states were required to jump through special hoops. the same states covered by section five of the voting act that echoes poetically the process by which the 14th and 15th amendments became part of the constitution. i have a little piece. it's harvard law review online. it's the lawfulness of section five of the 14th amend. .
>> i have it in front of me. i read it last night and this morning which is why there's coffee on it. the piece -- the sentence i wanted to pull from it, i wanted to ask you about anymore. this general announcement supports broad congressional power to administer strong and selective medicine to individual states with sorry democratic with a little "d" employed by section five. we have pres denlt for this decision. on the other side, folks are saying nope, you can't single out states and counties.
>> let's not forget there's second two of the voting act right as well. it prohibits racial discrimination in the voting context. section five is and always has be be beena remedy. frankly, as bad as things may be in certain areas, we are nowhere near the discrimination of the jim crow era . certainly, it's an extraordinary remedy today.
>> it's an interesting point. it feels to me like saying, my blood pressure medicine is working so well, i'm going stop taking it. it's clearly section five because it doesn't require -- second two prohibits discrimination but requires somebody to bring a case. section five puts on ownous on the discriminator themselves.
>> there's no other statute wu apply this standard. we don't say because people are aware of gender discrimination . the law certainly has made it better. there has been progress. we have admitted it. the court admitted it. everyone's admitted there's progress. there's still a need. it's what congress focused on in 2006 . it's incorrect to pretend we are revolting from 1965 . congress looked at what has been happening in the states covered by section five to determine if it's needed.
>> part of what i loved about reread thg stuff is jeff sessions . 98 members of the senate voted to reauthorize. no member didn't. jeff sessions of alabama, whose voice sounds to me like seg inauguration. i know that's unfair. he voted to reauthorize the voting rights act .
>> i think bouncing off her point here, i think the clam on the other side is like they are using an elephant gun to kill a mouse. 1965 , there were actual elephants now there aren't elephants. the progressive side is saying there are elephants out there. as evidence of the fact there are, let me point you to and this gets to the congressional deference point. 15,000 pages of record congress produced for the 2006 renewal. 26 hearings. how much deference does the court have to give to congress ? they didn't say we are going rubber stamp it and move on? the additional argument has to be there may be elephants here, but they are not just in the covered jurisdictions. impeerically, we can show the elephants are more likely in the covered jurisdictions than uncovered. addition nally, the statute itself gives a bailout prediction that allows them that have a clean nose to opt out.
>> and the bail in.
>> it goes both waits, right.
>> if a jurisdiction isn't covered, it can get put in. we update, basically, the data base and look at the law every few years. it sunsets. not just 98 to 0 in the senate and overwhelmingly the house signed by republican presidents an epic statute adopted with a signature of that president.
>> it was an extraordinary remedy in the 1960s and still remains extraordinary because our constitution was meant to be color blind . a portion of this act --
>> come on now, our constitution was absolutely not meant to be color blind . if we are honest about the initial document, it is many things. color blind is not one of them. it is a living document, a document that allows us to become more perfected over time . that initial document that renders my ancestors is certainly not color blind .
>> i'm take thg after the 14th amendment . they say, this is a color blind document. it's taken 100 years to get to a point we are at now.
>> congress has power and four other amendments say that. congress , not the court, congress gets to make the call. it also says in the process of being adopted, it's okay for congress to treat some states differently than other states if they have bad democratic track record. it's built into the 14th amend mtd.
>> we know it is because it comes at a time when we are talking about states that didn't just have a bad track record, but left. everybody stay here. we have the whole hour. i'm going to bring in barbara next. you know when she gets here, nerdland gets hot. when we come back. if