Hardball with Chris Matthews, 2/27/13, 7:00 PM ET

SCOTUS takes on the Voting Rights Act

NBC’s Pete Williams reports on the Supreme Court’s day of hearing challenges to the Voting Rights Act. Former deputy attorney assistant general Julie...

No, Justice Scalia, the right to vote is not an ‘entitlement’

Updated

Today in the arguments over the Voting Rights Act, Justice Scalia called the act a racial “entitlement.”

Got that? “Entitlement”? The right to vote is an “entitlement,” like Medicaid or food stamps.

No, it’s not.

Under the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” That amendment was ratified in 1870 under the administration of President Grant, one of my heroes.

As we all 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, Justice Scalia, it has a wonderful name. The reason is not words or their spelling or the English language in which this act is written and spoken about. No, sir, it’s about its meaning: that the U.S. Congress will ensure that people get to vote in places where they weren’t before.

That does not, sadly, refer only to the segregationists of the past. It refers to the people out there in state capitals today sitting in bars and over poker tables shouting out their latest gimmick to smother the electoral impact of blacks living in large cities. From Harrisburg to Tallahassee, they outbid each other with reptilian glee with their latest legislative squirm to convert electoral minorities into electoral majorities by denying blacks the right to vote.

Right, Mr. Justice Scalia—not “entitlement.” We’re talking about the vote, not some government benefit.

No, Justice Scalia, the right to vote is not an 'entitlement'

Updated