The Rachel Maddow Show | March 01, 2013
>>> it used to be that the president of the united states every week would deliver a national radio address to the country. fdr was the first president to start doing a weekly radio address, but it was a tradition that stuck even well into the 2000s . it was saturday, right on cue there was president george w. bush delivering his weekly radio address, which is kind of weird and charming, right? technologically we had come a long ways since the radio by the time george w. bush was still doing this. but now it's sort of belatedly, the weekly radio address has been updated. now it's the president's weekly youtube address. progress. watching the federal government drag itself on to the internet, first slowly and then with enthusiasm and now with alacrity, it's been fun to watch that progress over the years. for example, when the obama administration passed the recovery act, the stimulus back in '09, they simultaneously launched recovery.gov, a website where you can track all the recovery dollars with a click of a mouse, instead of going down to the treasury department or wherever to pore through the documents. so there is often a lag. but government usually embraces the new technology of the day, eventually, especially when it comes to communicating information about how the government works. the key word there, though, is usually there is one very big part of our government, one coequal branch of our government, in fact, that has stubbornly decided that it will fall behind in that area on purpose. what you're looking at here is the supreme court hearing this week on the voting rights act . and this is actually all i can show you of it, drawings. i mean, they're great drawings, but drawings. that's all we get. we get no still photos, certainly no video. only 18th century technology is welcome. it was not until today, two days after the actual arguments that the supreme court finally got around to posting the audio of those arguments because this court doesn't post audio until fridays. obviously, friday is audio day. but the supreme court 's aversion to 21st century technology actually made things a little bit easier today. because when the audio finally was posted, everybody knew to skip right to the 51-minute mark so they could hear conservative supreme court justice antonin scalia making this rather remarkable argument about why he thinks congress voted almost unanimously, and unanimously in the senate, to reauthorize the voting rights act six years ago. this is why he thinks they voted to reauthorize this landmark law that protects minority voting rights . here is how he explains the vote.
>> this last enactment, not a single vote in the senate against it. and the house is pretty much the same. now, i don't think that's attributable to the fact that it is so much clearer now that we need this. i think it is attributable -- very likely attributable to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement. it's been written about. whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.
>> the thing i was wondering if it would be on the audio, if you would be able to pick it up on the audio that they released that it turns out that you can't because it's too tight from the microphones, the things the mikes did not pick up was the audible gas than you could hear in the courtroom after justice scalia said the words "racial entitlement." the perpetrator pet weighs of racial entitlement, after he suggested that voting had become a racial entitlement in this country that congress can no longer make impartial decisions about. the supreme court heard argumenting about this week was a challenge to the voting rights act of 1965 , specifically section 5 of that act, which require that certain states, mostly in the south, but not entirely have, to get preclearance from the justice department before they're allowed to change their rules around voting. these are states that earned special scrutiny when it comes to voting because of a history of racial discrimination when it comes to voting in their jurisdictions. since the voting rights act passed in 1965 , congress has decided four times now, and by very, very large margins each time, to reauthorize it, to reup it. they have determined there is enough of a threat to minority voting rights in this country that this law should remain in place, and this particular remedy within this law should remain in place. congress studied this for months as recently as 2006 . ten months of hearings, they gathered 15,000 pages of evidence. they held more than 20 hearings in congress to decide whether this was still a problem and whether this was still an appropriate remedy to the problem. and they decided that in their judgment, the voting rights act is not just a good law, but necessary one. all of the senators from all of the covered states who voted on it voted unanimously that it should be kept. and the argument presented against it this week by justice antonin scalia was essentially, eh, when they cast those votes, they didn't really mean those votes.
>> this is not the kind of a question you can leave to congress . there are certain districts in the house that are black districts by law just about now. and even the virginia senators, they have no interest in voting against this. the state government is not their government, and they're going to lose -- they're going to lose votes if they do not re-enact the voting rights act . even the name of it is wonderful, the voting rights act . who is going to vote against that in the future?
>> the name of it is wonderful. it's disgusting. justice scalia , as you can probably gather is almost certainly a vote against the voting rights act . apparently on the basis that he believes it's some racial entitlement that congress is too scared to get rid of, so we should take 80 of their hands. you could also tell during the arguments this week that even though he does not have the reputation of being quite as purposely inflammatory or confrontational as justice scalia , the chief justice of the court, john roberts is just if not more hostile to the voting rights act . a good part of his job before joining the court. what is going to happen, if you count justices roberts and scalia and justices thomas and alito, who almost always vote with them, if you count them as pretty certain votes against the voting rights act , and you count justices ginsburg, breyer, let's say we start with that, as usual you have the swing vote on the court, justice anthony kennedy , who of course everybody is watching. if all goes as expected, it will be pretty much one guy deciding the fate of this cornerstone provision of civil rights in america. the cornerstone of civil rights that has protected voting rights in this country for more than a subsequent ration, that has protected those rights in a particular way, to be especially attentive in areas of the country that have had the worse abuses and that are seen as being the most vulnerable. if the court's decision is going to be that close, if it's just going to come down to one guy, does outside pressure matter? a lot of people think a lot is hanging on this decision. in terms of the way people express themselves about that, does it sway the court in one direction or the other? because there is outside pressure on this issue. i mean, this was the scene outside the supreme court on wednesday as the voting rights act was being heard inside. demonstrations by groups, including the naacp, demonstrations by residents of the county in alabama that is at the center of this particular fight, folks that are relying on that lay to keep their voting rights from being infringed on. this sunday a different kind of pressure. vice president joe biden will travel to alabama , to selma , alabama , to commemorate the civil rights march that took place in that city in 1965 that led to us getting the voting rights act in the first place. this law is something that came about because of public demonstrations. i mean, the edmund pettus bridge and john lewis getting his head bashed in lapped on a sunday. the following monday, eight days later, it was lbj addressing congress , a joint session of congress in a nationally televised speech demanding this law. the voting rights act happened because of demonstrations. it happened because of selma in 1965 . can public demonstration now have the effect of helping to save it? joinings us now from selma , alabama for the interview is the director a member of the voting rights act team.
>> thanks for having me.
>> do you think it is fair the say that public pressure , a social movement , political activism is a big part of the immediate reason that we got the voting rights act in the first place so, it's appropriate to question whether it might still be effective?
>> absolutely, rachel . i was struck by the reality. as i talk to you tonight, i'm less than 100 feet from the edmund pettus bridge where 48 years ago, courageous women, men, and children marched over the edmund put us the bridge to dramatize to the nation, indeed to the world their desire to be treated as equal citizens under the law and to have full access to the ballot. now, you know and your viewers know that when they crossed over the bridge that connects selma , alabama , to montgomery, they were met by alabama state troopers who spat on them, abused them, demeaned them, all because they wanted to dramatize to the world their as americans to access the ballot box . the supreme court is absolutely mindful of where the american people are on the issue of voting rights . but rachel , they're also mindful of where they are on their own precedent. the supreme court has four times over four decades upheld the constitutionality of the voting rights act against constitutional challenges. its own precedent, rachel , suggests that the supreme court should do that again this time.
>> looking at the -- i'm glad that you brought that up, because looking at the ways that this has been challenged in the past, it's obviously been challenged in the political arena. there have been long debates about this in congress . they have always been resolved by overwhelming votes, increasingly overwhelming votes in favor of keeping the act, there has also been challenges up to and including the supreme court fault approximately times. it has always been upheld. what has changed that it seems to threatened now? is there new evidence in fact to suggest that the law is encroaching unconstitutionally on state savrovereignty? is there evidence suggesting that the law isn't there to be addressed anymore?
>> in 2006 , when congress looked to reauthorize the voting rights act , as you mentioned in your introduction, they did their homework. they held 21 hearings over ten months, hearing from 90 witnesses both for and against reauthorizing the voting rights act , and created the 15,000 page record which outlined in great detail, and the last reauthorization period more than one thousand proposed discriminatory changes were blocked by section 5 of the voting rights act . the reality is that the theme of the voting rights act is yes there has been tremendous progress in our country since 1965 , since brave americans 100 yards from here put themselves in harm's way to get the full access to the ballot box . but there is also another truth about section 5, and that is there is nothing inconsistent about recognizing tremendous progress and yet demanding much more to go. and the reality is that here in alabama , in selma , alabama , the 1990s , section 5 was required to block five discriminatory voting measures in the 1990s alone. alabama is the epitome of a state that should be covered by section 5. and shelby county , alabama , in particular, which is the place where which the challenge originates, as justice sotomayor at oral argument suggested is the personification of a jurisdiction that is rightfully covered by the voting rights act .
>> ryan p. haygood, thank you for helping us understand and respond to. this i really appreciate your time tonight.
>> thanks for having me. thank you so much.
>>> by the time we have a director of the bureau, tobacco and firearms and explosives, the atf, that person's range of problems may also include printers. hold on. that's coming.