The Cycle | March 08, 2013
>>> i must have missed the moment when racism ended. i wonder when that was. was it the time that ross dated iesha taylor on "friends" or when keebler added the black elf ? oh, i know! it must have been when they made slavery illegal in mississippi all the way back in four weeks ago. in fact -- in fact -- ladies and gentlemen , we're living in such a post-racial utopia that we couldn't suppress black votes even if we wanted to which we definitely don't. voter rights act is obsolete. it's like an old restraining order . these states are just saying, yes, i used to beat my girlfriend. but i haven't since the restraining order so we don't need it anymore.
>> racism is so funny, isn't it? so funny sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying, especially at moments like this when a crucial piece of civil rights legislation, the voting rights act , is looking like it could be near death. when the supreme court heard arguments for and against the constitutionality, our next guest was in the courtroom arguing on behalf of the naacp legal defense fund in favor of the voting rights act .
>> to be fair, this statute cannot go on forever but our experience teaches that six amendments to the constitution have had to be passed to ensure safeguard for the right to vote and many federal laws that protect uniform voters, some protect eligible voters who have not had the opportunity yet to register, but together the protections are important because our right to vote is what the united states constitution is about.
>> that was debo adegbile, special counsel for the naacp legal defense fund and education fund arguing before the court and it's an honor to have you with us now. welcome.
>> great to be with you.
>> now, of course, the big, big moment, the headline moment that came out of that justice ska lay yeah saying, is that a permanent racial entitlement? what would you say to him perhaps away from the court in a bar trying to get him to understand, like, i don't look at it that way?
>> i think the reason the public response to that comment has been strong is because it flies in the face of our history, the constitution, and our common experience. everybody who looks at our history and common experience and the constitution itself knows that the voting rights act stands to take away focused racism that has been targeted at minority voters for many, many hundreds of years and the idea that we would stand down and try to paint a new world where the measures that are designed to remedy discrimination are somehow the source of the problem seems to be at odds with everything we understand about our history.
>> you think about the voting rights act , i think it's pretty easy to make a case for why we still need it given what happened in 2008 in shelby, what happens in 2008 in texas, voter i.d. -- the restriction of early voting , redistricting, all these ways of trying to restrict the franchise of people of color. even the senate voting for it 98-0. when do they vote for anything 98-0. and still we look like we're at a moment when it's in jeopardy. we'll be optimistic but you can read the tea leaves as well as any of us, it's going to be difficult. what does it say about the court and/or america that this is in jeopardy when we can very easily make a case that we still need it?
>> it says we're asking the wrong questions. essentially we should be trying to figure out in light of all that you just described how we can bring more people into the democracy. how we can make or democracy more inclusive and make sure that all voters have their say. instead, we're focusing on trying to make away the measure that have been most effective at expanding our democracy. america tries to be an example in the world for democracy. and the idea that in the face of consistent challenges we're thinking about taking down protections seems to be at odds with the directional force of where we should be going.
>> but we saw this moment coming even before the arguments in the last couple weeks. we saw it in 2009 when the supreme court let the voting rights act stand but it was seen as a stay of execution. the supreme court made it clear to congress they expected congress to step in and clarify and modernize the law if it was going to stay on the books. democrats had a lot on their plate, but they had the white house , the house, the senate. they didn't do anything. do you hold them responsible a little bit for this?
>> i don't hold them responsible at all. i think here a bipartisan look at what happened in the reauthorization is important. first, the 15th amendment gives the right to congress to determine what the law should be to enforce the protections. the reason it gives that right to congress is because the states and we know about this from the civil war and everything that followed with jim crow , and the supreme court and we all know about the dred scott case and the horrible history, those two entities got it wrong and they deprived citizens of their right, their equal right. so specifically and intentionally the amendments give the right to congress to act and what did congress do? they had hearings over a long period of time, ten months, 90 witnesses, 15,000 pages, so even after that decision congress felt that if the court looks at what we did, we meet any standard. and i think that's what will be born out in this case.
>> if you could quickly, what do you say to those critics who charge the section 5 coverage area just is out of daity?
>> i think they're making a mistake because they're focused on the original coverage idea which was based on turnout and reauthorization. congress looked at what was happening on the ground in the places that are subject to the act and in other places that are not. they found that the discrimination tends to concentrate itself in the covered areas. that's not to say it doesn't happen elsewhere, but that the way it happens in covered jurisdictions is more repetitive and consistent.
>> debo, thank you very much for fighting the good fight an for being here with us. up next, i will announce the what were you thinking award of the week, and, no, it doesn't go to justice scalia . he got