The Shelby Decision and Uncle Toms

Tuesday, June 25, AD 2013

This is, in a sense, a two-part post. The first part examines the decision handed down by the Court in Shelby v. Holder, and the second looks at the hysterical over-reaction.

The decision itself is fairly restrained. In a 5-4 decision, with Chief Justice Roberts delivering the opinion of the Court, the Court ruled as unconstitutional Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Actually, it really just ruled that Congress’s application of a 48-year old formula for determining which states and counties had to seek clearance from the federal government for any changes in its voting laws was lo longer justified. States subject to pre-clearance were those states which had poll tests and other restrictive measures in place at the time of the law’s enactment, and which also had enormous gaps in white versus black voter participation. This formula has remained unchanged for nearly half a century.

As the Chief explained in the ruling, the Court permitted a very wide abrogation of state authority in its decision upholding the Voting Rights Act (Katzenbach v. Morgan). The Court permitted what it termed “an uncommon exercise of Congressional power” due to “exceptional conditions.” As the Chief further explained, those exceptional conditions no longer applied, and indeed in those states and counties subject to pre-clearance there has been increased racial parity in terms of registration and participation. In fact, if one were to construct a list of states that should be subject to pre-clearance based on disparities in voter participation, there would be more justification in including Massachusetts instead of, say, South Carolina.

Justice Ginsburg in her dissent quips, “In the Court’s view, the very success of  Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act demands its dormancy.” By the standards established by the dissenters, the formula established in Section 4 could never be deemed unconstitutional. Further, as Chief Justice Roberts says in his opinion:

The dissent treats the Act as if it were just like any other piece of legislation, but this Court has made clear from the beginning that the Voting Rights Act is far from ordinary. At the risk of repetition, Katzenbach indicated that the Act was “uncommon” and “not otherwise appropriate,” but was justified by “exceptional” and “unique” conditions. 383 U. S., at 334, 335. Multiple decisions since have reaffirmed the Act’s “extraordinary” nature. See, e.g., Northwest Austin, supra, at 211. Yet the dissent goes so far as to suggest instead that the preclearance requirement and disparate treatment of the States should be upheld into the future “unless there [is] no or almost no evidence of unconstitutional action by States.”

Ultimately, the decision is of somewhat limited scope:

Our decision in no way affects the permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting found in §2. We issue no holding on §5 itself, only on the coverage formula. Congress may draft another formula based on current conditions. Such a formula is an initial prerequisite to a determination that exceptional conditions still exist justifying such an “extraordinary departure from the traditional course of relations between the States and the Federal Government.” Presley, 502 U. S., at 500–501. Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.

Of course this hasn’t stopped the left from completely over-reacting. A post on the Corner compiled the most over-the-top reactions. Melissa Harris-Perry’s tweet of “Damn, that citizenship thing was so great for awhile,” certainly was cute, but no one is touching Minnesota state rep. Ryan Winkler, who tweeted, “SCOTUS VRA majority is four accomplices to race discrimination and one Uncle Thomas. Marriage decision may blur Court’s backsliding.” Winkler soon deleted that tweet, and followed up with this whopper:

Uh huh.

It’s difficult to determine the most disgusting part of this exchange. Either Winkler is historically illiterate or a liar, though of course nothing necessarily precludes both being true. What’s worse, this white legislator from one of the whitest states in the Union seems to think he knows better than a black man raised in the South about how to deal with racial prejudice. Moreover, whitey has declared himself the judge of authentic blackness. Charming.

Finally, and I realize this is something of a nitpick, but the very term “Uncle Tom” is offensive not just because it carries with it the implicit notion that all African-Americans must think and act a certain way, but because the term itself is based on a character in a historical novel who was the opposite of what the term is meant to imply. I have a feeling that no one who has ever used the phrase has actually read the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, because if they had they would have a hard time justifying referring to the character as a race traitor. Then again, we live in a world where Al Sharpton is given legitimacy as a political analyst on a cable news network, so perhaps I underestimate the stupidity of large swathes of the American public.

Continue reading...

6 Responses to The Shelby Decision and Uncle Toms

  • “What? You mean there are racial overtones to an affluent white man representing an affluent white district in a lily-white state (where the term “people of color” refers to Danes) calling out an African-American man as an “Uncle Tom” for not behaving the way an affluent white man believes an African-American is “supposed” to act?”
    ~ Ryan Winkler – D(ouchebag) F(or) L(eftism), MN

  • dunno it sorta seems like a reverse-engineering of the liberal approach to the Constitution, i.e. having a seemingly broad definition of what counts as unconstitutional as far as legislation, as opposed to just blocking/reversing broad liberal judicial decisions. Though it is funny to see liberals appropriating conservative rhetoric about judicial activism for this and when they thought Obamacare was going down.

    as far as “Uncle Tom,” the term is what it is at this point whatever it originally meant. Since it has a defined meaning similar to being a shill I don’t think it’s inherently offensive (not on the level of other slurs anyway) even though people toss it around lazily.

  • A white man calling a black man an “Uncle Tom” is inherently racist. It means “Hey, ‘black’ man, you’re not behaving the way I – a white man – thinks a black man should behave.”

  • The idea that Congress could pass legislation taking away a measure of self government from only certain states always was an affront to the equal protection afforded by the fourteenth amendment, and the Court, as it did today, overlooked the obvious in not striking down the entire statute, however well-intentioned and needed the statute was in many parts of the South half a century ago. Now it is merely a relic of a bygone era. Although of deep emotional significance to liberals, perhaps as a memory of the brief period they did not embrace racial discrimination, the Court gutting the statute has as much practical significance as the Court striking down letters of marque and reprisal.

  • Pingback: Interview with Atheist Blogger Bob Seidensticker - BigPulpit.com
  • Law rarely goes away merely because the conditions predicate are no longer true.

    Discrimination laws and the agencies that oversee them continue to expand while the incidents of actual discrimination become fewer and fewer. This ruling is unsatisfactory but the Court could have done little else – the offenses necessitating federal oversight being so grave and the underlying symbolism that the Voting Rights Act engenders in Americans. Actually, it is rather brave and surprising that the Justices took this step.

    What isn’t surprising is Justice Thomas’ position.

    I always ask anyone who is criticizing Justice Thomas whether they have read his autobiography. Either I am told “no, did he write one” or “yes, what a whiner.”

    I have read the autobiography several times. His story is comelling and the blueprint for his choices on the Bench is startlingly clear. The autobiography deals effectively with the Uncle Tom usage debated above since it was written by a very smart man, wholly aware that that mean-spirited, demeaning term was a cross he would have to bear the weight of long after he dies.

Robert Byrd, Requiescat In Pace

Monday, June 28, AD 2010

Kristina Peterson of the Dow Jones Newswires writes for the Wall Street Journal this synopsis of Robert Byrd’s life:

Robert Byrd, the 92-year-old West Virginia Democrat who served in the U.S. Senate for 51 years, died Monday.

A spokesman for the family, Jesse Jacobs, said Mr. Byrd died peacefully at about 3 a.m. at Inova Hospital in Fairfax, Va. His health had been failing for several years.

A master of Senate procedures and orator whose Stentorian tones aimed to evoke the roots of the republic (if not Rome), Mr. Byrd served longer, voted more frequently, and probably used the arcane Senate rules to more effect any previous denizen of the nation’s senior legislative house.

Continue reading...

4 Responses to Robert Byrd, Requiescat In Pace

  • Mortuis nil nisi bonum, for today at any rate.

  • I pray that he’s in the company of the angels and the saints rejoicing in the eternal peace of God — the end that I a poor sinner hope to share in as well.

    I’m glad this post is not what I saw on LifeNews (i.e. “Pro-Abortion Senator Robert Byrd Dies”); I couldn’t fathom how there is absolutely no condolences, no mention of prayer or best wishes to his family or loved ones. The entire piece focuses on how pro-abortion he was, how many seats the Democrats now have, and how the Governor of West Virginia doesn’t know yet (the man died this morning, sheesh) who is going to replace Byrd with.

    I’m obviously pro-life, but respect and prayer for the dead should be embraced.

  • Eric,

    I agree.

    Hence why I chose the WSJ article instead of some others.

  • Prayer for the dead, yes. Silence in the presence of those who loved him, yes. Respect for a man like Byrd, too much to demand…