Trolling for Justice

Last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, which is challenging the constitutionality of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, specifically the provisions of Section 5, which require certain states to receive Federal permission before altering any of their voting laws.

Note that this law was so controversial that, when it was re-authorized in 2006, it squeaked through the Senate on a vote of 98 to 0.

During his questioning, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia suggested that the protections of Section 5 were a form of “racial entitlement” that the “normal political” process could not be trusted to get rid of, because no legislator would ever be brave enough to vote against something called the “Voting Rights Act.” It apparently did not occur to Justice Scalia that legislators of both parties had done their due diligence and determined that the law was still useful. One does not need to be brave in order to not be stupid.

Needless to say, such comments sparked huge controversy. I’m sure Scalia views would come as a huge shock to those who passed the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to Constitution. The idea that voting is any kind of “entitlement” is a bit, well, Eighteenth Century, and ironic for a man like Scalia. I doubt that his Italian Catholic ancestors who came to these shores would have been among the white Protestant land-owning males who were originally “entitled” to the franchise.

MSNBC personality Rachel Maddow appeared the next day on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, she compared Justice Scalia to an internet “troll,” one who deliberately says offensive things to get a reaction. That one line got one of the biggest and most positive reactions I’ve ever seen for a guest on that show.

Fox News personality Megyn Kelly was not pleased however. She objected to Maddow’s use of the word “troll” to describe a Supreme Court justice.

I say if the shoe fits, Scalia richly deserves to have it thrown at him. Back when he was first appointed to the Court by Ronald Reagan, the really controversial Supreme Court nominee was Robert Bork, Nixon’s Solicitor General and chief executioner of the “Saturday Night Massacre.” Objections to his opinions resulted in his nomination being withdrawn, but I wonder if it is possible for Bork to have been a worse Supreme Court Justice than Scalia has been for the last twenty-seven years.

If you wanted to see exactly how bad things were going to be over those three decades, one only need to read the decision for one of Scalia’s earliest cases.

The relatively new justice authored the dissenting opinion in Edwards v. Aguilard, a 7-2 decision which invalidated Louisiana’s “educational freedom” law. Rather than guaranteeing “academic freedom,” the law really tried to force science teachers to include Christian creationism in their curriculum.

Scalia’s dissent is appalling on many logical levels, but his key argument, that there was no way for the Court to know that Louisiana’s legislature had a religious purpose in passing the law without reading their minds, was laughable. He either ignores or is ignorant of the obvious, that “creationism” is blatantly religious nonsense supported by evangelical religious conservatives. The mere fact that the law specified creationism is proof of its religious intent, thus rendering it unconstitutional.

Scalia appears to accept Louisiana’s arguments at face value. These included:

There are two and only two scientific explanations for the beginning of life — evolution and creation science.

Actually, only one of those – evolution – is a scientific explanation.

The body of scientific evidence supporting creation science is as strong as that supporting evolution.

That is complete bullshit. There is no scientific evidence for creationism. Period. Full stop.

Creation science is educationally valuable. Students exposed to it better understand the current state of scientific evidence about the origin of life.

Actually, treating creationism on equal footing with evolution creates the false impression that there is any real controversy on the validity of evolution, and only serves to confuse impressionable students.

Although creation science is educationally valuable and strictly scientific, it is now being censored from or misrepresented in the public schools.

Of course, creationism is neither of those things. It is not being censored, but barred from public schools because it is religiously-motivated bunkum.

The censorship of creation science has at least two harmful effects. First, it deprives students of knowledge of one of the two scientific explanations for the origin of life and leads them to believe that evolution is proven fact; thus, their education suffers and they are wrongly taught that science has proved their religious beliefs false. Second, it violates the Establishment Clause. The United States Supreme Court has held that secular humanism is a religion.

  1. Creationism is not a scientific explanation.
  2. Evolution is a scientific fact.
  3. Accepting evolution does not prove anyone’s religion false, unless they allow it to because because they have hung their faith on the false foundation of creationism.
  4. Secular Humanism’s religious status is irrelevant.

Scalia merely restates Louisiana’s defense of the law, but he does not argue against it or challenge it any way. He continues by insisting incorrectly that “The Act’s reference to ‘creation’ is not convincing evidence of religious purpose.” He added, “Senator Keith and his witnesses repeatedly stressed that the subject can and should be presented without religious content.” To ignore the obvious religious motives behind the law, Scalia had to ignore dozens of scientific witnesses, all of whom argued persuasively that creationism was unscientific bunkum. He also had to blind himself to the undeniable fact that the vast majority of people who argue for creationism (and its newer, mutant stepchild “Intelligent Design”) are religiously conservative, mostly evangelical Christians.

It appears that the quality of Scalia’s reasoning has not improved. I don’t expect Supreme Court justices to be scientific experts, but I also don’t expect them to be so easily snowed by religious prejudice. I definitely expect them to know the difference between a basic constitutional right and a so-called “entitlement.”

For being a genuine threat to the Constitution, Justice Scalia richly deserves his promotion to the Marketing Department.

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