The McLaughlin Group
Host: John McLaughlin
Mort Zuckerman, U.S. News & World Report;
Eleanor Clift, Newsweek/The Daily Beast;
Susan Ferrechio, Washington Examiner;
Michelle Bernard, Bernard Center
Taped: Friday, June 28, 2013
Broadcast: Weekend of June 29-30, 2013
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JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Down with DOMA.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) So my basic view is that, regardless of race, regardless of religion and regardless of gender, regardless of sexual orientation, when it comes to how the law treats you, how the state treats you -- the benefits, the rights and the responsibilities under the law -- people should be treated equally. And that's a -- that's a principle that I think applies universally. And the good news is it's an easy principle to remember.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Gay marriage gets a double green light this week. The Supreme Court upheld same-sex weddings in California, and on a federal level, struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA.
DOMA was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, 17 years ago. Marriage, declares DOMA, is a union between a man and a woman, not a man and a man or a woman with a woman. Legally, prior to this ruling, DOMA denied federal benefits to state-married homosexuals, including tax breaks and insurance that are extended to heterosexual couples.
Justice Anthony Kennedy and the Supreme Court disagree with DOMA because of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. Quote: "No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property," unquote. If marriage is defined as heterosexual only -- that is, between a woman and a man -- then a homosexual union is unconstitutionally stripped of the rights and benefits granted to cross-gender married couples.
The majority opinion said of DOMA, quote, "This places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage. The differentiation demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects, and it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples," unquote.
Justice Antonin Scalia spoke for the dissent, sideswiping Kennedy in the process. Quote: "To defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements. To hurl such accusations so casually demeans this institution," unquote.
Question: What is the practical effect of this Supreme Court ruling? Mort Zuckerman.
MORT ZUCKERMAN: Well, it's going to open up a real struggle in so many different states now, 30-odd states, that don't allow this kind of marriage. And it's made this legal. So I think you're going to see a major effort in state after state after state to gain this support for same-sex marriages. It's opened the door now completely, and this is not going to end for quite a while, and it'll be a big struggle.
SUSAN FERRECHIO: Well, practically speaking, we're just talking -- at the federal level, we're talking about benefits. We're talking about people being able to access insurance, people being excused from paying estate taxes. Just practically speaking, it's really sort of about money.
And also, if you're looking at this immigration bill moving down the pike in Congress, this would permit folks in same-sex relationships to sponsor green cards. This was a big part of the debate.
So there are some real practical effects of this. It's not going to cause every state in the Union to have to legalize gay marriage. It brings the subject up. It gets things moving. It gets people talking about it. But on a practical level, it's just about really what benefits people can be entitled to, if they are married, from the federal government, not from the state government.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How many states now permit gay and lesbian marriages --
MS. FERRECHIO: It's --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and license them?
ELEANOR CLIFT: Thirteen.
MS. FERRECHIO: Thirteen.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Thirteen.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Thirteen.
MS. CLIFT: Thirteen, including --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: And the District --
MS. CLIFT: -- California and --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: And the District of Columbia.
MS. CLIFT: -- the District of Columbia.
MS. FERRECHIO: And D.C., yeah.
MS. CLIFT: Look, this bends the arc of justice in the right direction, which is a phrase the president always likes to use. And I think it's pretty clear where the courts and the country are heading. Now, it may take a while, because you do have some 30 states that have not taken this step.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exactly 30.
MS. CLIFT: But politically, I think this is going to basically energize the left. And this was an issue that used to energize conservative voters, which is just evidence of what a dramatic change we've had in our social mores and culture that the acceptance of gay marriage has come about so relatively quickly in the last couple of years that I think it's breathtaking.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Michelle, will these states have to conduct their own internal voting to determine whether a change should be made in their constitution, these 13 states?
MICHELLE BERNARD: Well, the 13 states that have legalized gay marriage are completely on constitutional grounds. Here's the conundrum that we're going to see from a legal perspective, and which is what I believe is going to cause us to go even further. And I should say first I agree with Eleanor. I think that this is a step in the right direction.
Here's the problem, though, and this is why people in same-sex relationships are still technically second-tier citizens under the law, despite the Supreme Court's ruling this week. If you live, for example, in the District of Colombia and you legally take part in a marriage and you move to a state where marriage -- where gay marriage is illegal, what happens?
If you -- people have given, for example, the example, suppose you're in a state where gay marriage is not legal and you're in a car accident. Do you have the ability to bring a wrongful-death suit? Do you lose your benefits because -- and are you all of a sudden involuntarily divorced because you have moved to a state where gay marriage is illegal?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.
MS. BERNARD: So this is going to -- this is something that we're going to see argued over and over again on a state-by-state basis.
MS. CLIFT: There are going to be lots of lawsuits and lots of discussion. But, you know, the president, speaking in Senegal, which is a country where homosexuality is criminalized, addressed this issue and said he was speaking as a president, not as a lawyer, but that he felt that if you were married in one state and you moved to another state, the federal government was still going to recognize that marriage.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The problem is with 30 states that have banned -- I said 13 accidentally; I meant 30 states, and you pointed that out, to clear that up. But what are they going to -- are their state legislatures going to have to be involved --
MS. FERRECHIO: You know what's going to happen?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- in changing the law?
MS. BERNARD: Well, I mean, you're going to -- I believe you're going to see state legislatures across the country where -- that are going to be deciding what they think is the best for their communities. And if you read closely the Supreme Court decision --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what's going on during the interim between when they have their convention and change their law and the ruling of the high court?
MS. BERNARD: Well, between now and that time, you begin to see more and more lawsuits. For example -- the example I just gave you, if I am in a same-sex marriage and I move to a state where same-sex marriages are illegal, I think you're immediately going to see lawsuits, because the state courts -- (inaudible) -- are going to say we don't recognize this. And there's a constitutional argument --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Doesn't the Supreme Court ruling overrule --
MS. BERNARD: No.
MS. FERRECHIO: No, it's only for --
MS. BERNARD: No, absolutely not.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It does not?
MS. BERNARD: No, absolutely not. Absolutely not.
MS. CLIFT: No, what you're going to see is people in states where gay marriage is not allowed --
MS. FERRECHIO: Pushing for it.
MS. CLIFT: -- flying -- well, pushing for it also, but flying to states to get married in another state. Then you're going to have arguments about whether, if you fly to a state and get married, do you have to stay there several days --
MS. FERRECHIO: I think eventually it's all going to be moot.
MS. CLIFT: -- to establish residence?
MS. FERRECHIO: It's going to be moot because --
MS. CLIFT: And if you just fly -- excuse me --
MS. FERRECHIO: -- (inaudible).
MS. CLIFT: -- if you just fly back to your state, will it then be recognized? Those are the kinds of minutiae that's going to drive the conversation.
MS. FERRECHIO: That is true. But over time, this isn't going to matter, because overwhelmingly young people don't believe that it should be -- they believe that marriage should be legal in every state in the Union, I think. And over time this is what's going to change things. People's attitudes have changed. Young people have changed. Eventually it's just going to filter up, and I think --
MS. BERNARD: But the question is --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In 1996 --
MS. BERNARD: -- how long do you have to wait? There was a time where interracial marriage was considered illegal and against community standards. And the question then -- I think in that case it was Loving versus Virginia -- was how long do you have to wait? And members of the LGBT community should not have to wait at a glacial pace for the members of the Supreme Court to decide.
MS. CLIFT: The war has been --
MS. FERRECHIO: Well, the --
MS. CLIFT: -- won. The war has been won, but not all the battles have been fought.
MS. BERNARD: Exactly.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Public opinion has changed quite remarkably.
MS. FERRECHIO: And that's where --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In `96 -- what would that be, 17 years ago? -- Gallup showed that 68 percent -- so you got a consensus of the American people -- said that same-sex marriage should not be legal, and only 27 percent said it should. In June of 2013, CBS poll showed a narrow majority now favors it. Fifty-one percent in the United States said gay and lesbian marriage should be legal, while 44 percent said it should not be legal.
MS. CLIFT: And it was 1996, I believe, that President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.
MS. CLIFT: -- sort of in the middle of the night. He didn't really want anybody to notice. (Laughs.) But he did that to avert sort of a worse legislative fate.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: And the fact that the Supreme Court came down in this way is going to give a lot of additional momentum and support to those people who want to get it legalized in other states.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think this will become a constitutional matter? And, if so, what probability would you give it, one way or the other? Mort.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, I don't think it'll be a constitutional matter. It'll be a state-by-state matter. It may go to the courts again.
But I think right now it's the state-by-state area that's going to be where this is all going to be fought out.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will the Supreme Court rule that there is an overarching constitutional right to marry --
MS. CLIFT: You know, that may come eventually --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- a person of the same gender?
MS. CLIFT: -- but the Supreme Court didn't want to do that, because, you know --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I know. Will it do it?
MS. CLIFT: -- with Roe v. Wade -- maybe a dozen years into the future. But with Roe v. Wade, they decided something, and then a lot of states kept fighting, and we're still fighting about it. So I think they think it's better --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.
MS. CLIFT: -- to let it run through all the legislative channels, chambers, and work it out on the state level. I think it's a more narrow, restrained ruling, but it still has the major force of a moral push.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On a 100 scale, what's the probability that the Supreme Court will have to rule on whether there is a constitutional right to marry someone of your own gender?
MS. FERRECHIO: Low -- 20s.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Twenties?
MS. FERRECHIO: Twenties, because the states are going to do this, I think. Overwhelmingly, young people support it. And so they're going to be the people who are the deciders in the future.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will the Supreme Court so say?
MS. BERNARD: I think eventually -- I think eventually this is an issue that's going to go before the Supreme Court, and they're going to have to make a decision. I don't think we're going to see it anytime in the near future. There's lots of other litigation. But eventually this is a case -- that question is something the Supreme Court will have to address.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you a lawyer?
MS. BERNARD: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I'm with you.
Issue Two: Into Africa.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) On behalf of myself and Michelle, our children, our entire delegation, we want to thank you for the incredible hospitality that you've shown us today.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: For the first time since 2009, President Obama is back in Africa. Mr. Obama's itinerary: Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania, where Mr. Obama speaks directly to business leaders. It's no coincidence that Tanzania is where new Chinese leader Xi Jinping made his recent high-profile African stop.
In addition to the first lady and the president's two daughters, Mr. Obama's new trade representative, Mike Froman, will also be riding along on Air Force One.
A key objective of the African trip is to foster trade and business ties. To accomplish that, some 500 private-sector business leaders will join in the trip at some point. This may be the largest U.S. trade delegation to visit Africa since the late commerce secretary, Ron Brown, took hundreds of business people to Africa during the Clinton presidency.
Question: Is President Obama vying -- you know the meaning of that -- for influence with China in Africa? I ask you.
MS. FERRECHIO: Well, first of all, China's trade in that region is something like $200 billion, and ours is half that. So it makes sense for us to be there trying to get in on the game, as the president's chief adviser, Ben Rhodes, said.
So I think it's important for us to go down and address this and bring the business leaders along. I think that's -- you know, makes the trip seem a little more worthwhile. However, the trip does have this hefty $60 (million) to $100 million price tag, so I hope we get some good trade deals out of it.
MS. CLIFT: Well, every president --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you know who Africa's biggest trade partner is?
MS. FERRECHIO: China.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. Do you know what the trade volume is?
MS. FERRECHIO: Two hundred billion.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Two hundred billion.
MS. FERRECHIO: That's a lot of money.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Up dramatically from the $1 billion in 1997 on China's part.
MS. FERRECHIO: Yeah.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are we competing with that?
MS. FERRECHIO: Not yet.
MS. BERNARD: We have to.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: It's not just in Africa that we're competing with China.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's our trade volume --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: It's all over the world.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- with Africa?
MS. BERNARD: Ninety-five --
MS. FERRECHIO: Ninety-five --
MS. BERNARD: -- billion dollars, compared to --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Ninety-five.
MS. BERNARD: -- $200 billion by China just in 2012. That is --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Double.
MS. BERNARD: -- dismal. Yeah.
MS. CLIFT: Right. And, you know, former Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush did tremendous work in Africa, and a shout out to President Bush, who's actually in Africa at the same time, who really cares about global health, and his commitment is terrific.
But that was -- their programs were more about helping Africa, aid to Africa. This president is trying to turn around and say it's trade that makes the difference.
And it's essential for Africa and essential for us. But Africa is -- it's an emerging market, every bit as strong as Asia. So this is --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're talking about W., right?
MS. CLIFT: -- an appropriate trip.
MS. BERNARD: W. They will be --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort.
MS. BERNARD: -- in Tanzania together.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Africa is an emerging market. It is nowhere near the strength of Asia. But it is a major market. It should be a major market, and we should be doing a lot better with it. And China naturally has that, because their goods are, shall we say, at a lower price point and they're able to be afforded by the economies of Africa.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who can tell me this? Which nation in Africa is becoming anti-Chinese by reason of the volume of the Chinese trade now undertaken with Africa? You follow me? One of those nations really doesn't like it, and they want it lowered or stopped, all of this Chinese trade.
MS. CLIFT: Well, those countries are --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They feel it's changing the nature of their own nation and of Africa.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: I'll bet --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Have you seen any of that?
MS. BERNARD: I have -- if I were to guess, I would venture to guess that it would be South Africa --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: South Africa.
MS. BERNARD: -- which has -- you know, has the strongest economic system --
MS. FERRECHIO: That's my guess.
MS. BERNARD: -- on the whole continent.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you want to guess on this?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: I would say it would be South Africa.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It starts with a Z.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, then it would be Zambia.
MS. CLIFT: Zambia.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Zambia, yes. In fact, you can't get elected to the presidency over there if you are sympathetic to all of this high volume of trade that China is now having with Zambia.
MS. CLIFT: Well, but Africa is rich in all these resources, and China is trying to scarf that up. And I think they do need some protection of their natural resources. Heck, we want their resources too. (Laughs.) I don't want to act like we're above board on all this.
MS. BERNARD: I just want to add one other thing, though. The other component to the president's trip, and I think one of the reasons that he picked the three countries to go to that he's going to be visiting this trip, is that they are all stable democracies. Senegal just had new elections. And I think one of the points he's making is that strong, stable democracies that adhere to the rule of law --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you --
MS. BERNARD: -- can benefit economically and do a lot of good for the people that they govern.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, OK. What about the people in the United States? Is the president succeeding in making the case for developing trade for reasons of economics, the economics of corporations, as well as national economics, with Africa? Is he making the case to Americans?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yeah, sure, in a broad sense, yes, but not really. It's not a very strong issue in this country, I think.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why? Why?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: The president --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In view of --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Because --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- the natural riches that exist in mining over there --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: There are natural resources that we can exploit, without question. But our major markets are much more important to us. Europe is a much more important -- Canada by far is a much more important market. So I don't think that Africa is going to --
MS. CLIFT: But this is --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- emerge at this point.
MS. CLIFT: -- about the future. This is about the future.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: So, too, is the future of our sales to Europe. They're much more important.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We import $74 billion worth of trade from Africa. They import $22 billion from us. So there's a mismatch there. Does that mean anything to you?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, of course. I mean, look, we're going to have a trading advantage with Africa for a very long time, because they are not at the stage economically, in terms of their development, where they can produce goods that we are going to want to buy; natural resources, yes, but manufactured goods, no.
MS. BERNARD: Or even get them out of the country. So you're going to -- you're seeing things coming out of the Export-Import Bank, out of new legislation that just came out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to try to help them --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mm-hmm. (Acknowledging.)
MS. BERNARD: -- do things like, you know, have some infrastructure that enables them to get their products out of different countries on the continent.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We give them about $500 million a year to fight AIDS, by the way. That's a continuing program.
Issue Three: Turn Snowden Over.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) My continued expectation is that Russia or other countries that have talked about potentially providing Mr. Snowden asylum recognize that they are part of an international community and that they should be abiding by international law. And we'll continue to press them as hard as we can to make sure that they do so.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Edward J. Snowden is the National Security Agency, the NSA, contractor turned whistleblower. Mr. Snowden was employed in Hawaii and fled from there to Hong Kong, where the U.S. sought to have him returned. Hong Kong officials declined to deport Snowden because they say one of their two conditions for so doing was unmet.
Snowden this week turned up in Russia, where he has taken refuge at Moscow's airport. President Obama has turned up the diplomatic pressure and threatened repercussions if the U.S. is further rebuffed, though the tables may be turning.
On Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov gave Snowden the brush-off. Quote: "Mr. Snowden is a free man. He is located in the transit area of the Sheremetyevo Airport, and he has the right to fly in any direction he wants. And as the president of Russia said, the sooner that happens, the better," unquote. So says Russia's Foreign Minister Lavrov.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was more colorful in demanding Snowden's exit, saying, quote, "I would rather not deal with such questions, because it's like shearing a piglet -- a lot of squealing and little wool," unquote.
WikiLeaks is in the act, giving Snowden financial aid and legal aid. Where next? Snowden says his hegira will end in Iceland or Ecuador. But Iceland says Snowden has yet to submit an asylum application and can only do so once he is already in the country. Ecuador Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino has announced it could take his country up to two months to make a decision on whether or not to grant asylum to Snowden. So Snowden may be stuck in transit zone limbo.
Question: Which is the best outcome for President Obama's political interest, to capture Snowden and put him on trial, or to have Snowden go into exile and hope that he fades away? I ask you.
MS. CLIFT: Well, I think the president did very -- did his best to sort of de-escalate the whole crisis, saying he wasn't going to scramble the jets to go after some 29-year-old hacker. Actually he's 30 now.
And I think a much more important story emerged late this week, and that is that General Cartwright, former deputy chair of the Joint Chiefs, is the focus of an investigation about the leaking of the information about the Stuxnet virus. Now, this was President Obama's favorite general. Now, is what he did --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mm-hmm. (Acknowledging.)
MS. CLIFT: -- any better or worse than what Snowden just did?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mm-hmm. (Acknowledging.)
MS. CLIFT: I think we have to really --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, the Stuxnet virus is the virus that is supposed to have inhabited the Iranian reactor.
MS. CLIFT: That's right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Correct?
MS. CLIFT: That's right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And does it inhabit it?
MS. CLIFT: Well, it set back their nuclear program quite a bit.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It was set up over there. Ahmadinejad acknowledged that.
MS. CLIFT: And the thought was that it was the U.S. or the Israelis who did it. And then it appeared in the media that --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Then it evaporated.
MS. CLIFT: Well, the story evaporated, but the --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The story evaporated.
MS. CLIFT: -- Stuxnet was a very powerful virus and a very powerful tool that this country used. And the administration --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, how is Obama -- how is the president going to handle this --
MS. CLIFT: -- launched a leak investigation.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How is the president going to handle this general?
MS. FERRECHIO: I think he's going to handle him the way he's been handling all these other things, by not really getting engaged and saying very little, and keeping everything at an arm's length so it doesn't look like it's his problem.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Not bad --
MS. FERRECHIO: He can keep his popularity up.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Not bad political move.
MS. FERRECHIO: Well, he's still popular. Look at the polls.
MS. BERNARD: I have to say, though, I think, going back to Snowden, I think this is a problem for the president. I think he needs to get Snowden back. I think there is --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: I agree with that.
MS. BERNARD: -- a problem, from a foreign policy perspective and how we look at the muscle of the United States government, for Hong Kong to have just allowed him to leave the country the way he did, and for Russia to basically say we don't have an extradition treaty with you, and although you have complied with us and extradited seven people that we wanted back to Russia, we're not going to help you.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question. It's time to place the bets. How do you wager? Will President Obama get Snowden into custody, or will Snowden slip loose and find asylum?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, he'll get him into custody.
MS. CLIFT: He'll get him.
MS. FERRECHIO: I don't think he'll get him.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Really?
MS. FERRECHIO: No.
MS. BERNARD: I think he'll get him.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think he'll get him, and he has to get him.
Issue Four: Voting Rights Ruling.
It was signed into law by President Lyndon Baines Johnson, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, widely considered to be one of the most effective pieces of civil rights legislation passed in the last 50 years. The act prohibits states from imposing any, quote-unquote, "voting qualification" or prerequisite to voting, or from enacting any standard, practice or procedure that denies any U.S. citizen the right to vote on the basis of race.
After its enactment, states could no longer legally deny African- Americans the right to vote, notably many southern states, where segregation had been the law of the land. Civil rights workers were murdered. African-American churches, Jewish synagogues and the homes of African-American leaders were routinely bombed.
Under Section 5 of the act, states and localities with a history of discrimination must seek pre-clearance of changes in voting rules that could have an impact on minorities.
On Tuesday of this past week, in a 5-4 decision, in Shelby County versus Holder, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the act, which provided the formula that governed which jurisdictions were required to have voting changes pre-cleared. The court's majority held that Section 4 was unconstitutional because it is based on outdated statistics.
Chief Justice Roberts cited the case of Mississippi, which in 1965 had only 6.7 percent of blacks registered to vote, compared to 69.9 percent of whites. Today, Roberts noted, 76.1 percent of African-Americans are registered to vote in Mississippi, compared to only 72.3 percent of whites.
Updating the formula used in Section 4 would render that portion of the law constitutional. It is now up to the Congress, the U.S. Congress, to revise the formula.
Civil rights organizations argue that by striking down Section 4 of the act, states may enact discriminatory voter-suppression measures, threatening the right to vote of communities of color across the nation and eroding much of the civil rights progress made since passage of the act in 1965.
Question: Is the court right that the formula for applying the Voting Rights Act needs to be updated? And, if so, will Congress pass new legislation doing so? Michelle Bernard.
MS. BERNARD: I -- no, I think the court was absolutely wrong. I think that they have castrated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. You know, what we haven't seen a lot of in the discussion about this act over the last week is the fact that there was a mechanism in the law for you to be opted out, to sort of opt out of the law. If you could prove that you had not engaged in any discriminatory election practices over the last 10 years, you could apply to the Department of Justice and basically be taken off of the bad-person list, you know, the bad-state list in the South.
Alabama never applied, and the reason they didn't apply is because recently, within the last 10 years, two counties in Alabama just called off elections because it was pretty evident that population changes were going to change the constitution of their local city councils. So, no, the Supreme Court was absolutely wrong. Voter discrimination is an absolute problem in the United States today.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think they can make the case that updating Section
4 would be in the public interest? For example, in Georgia -- I'm reading here now -- Democratic House minority leader Stacey Abrams said that revising Section 4 could work well for admitting Hispanics and Asians.
MS. BERNARD: Well, you could revise Section 4 without striking it down as being unconstitutional. Should Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act be expanded? Absolutely. Are southern states the only states where we find problems of intentional election discrimination? Absolutely not. But you don't strike down one whole portion of the act as being unconstitutional because -- and I will tell you, I think people need to remember, when we heard oral arguments on the case --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mm-hmm. (Acknowledging.)
MS. BERNARD: -- over the winter, Justice Scalia made it pretty clear that, as far as he was concerned, the Voting Rights Act was akin to -- I believe he called it a racial entitlement. He has disdain for the act --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah --
MS. BERNARD: -- and they struck it down.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you have thoughts on this, Mort?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yeah. Look, the thing that is really extraordinary to me in all of this is that the transformation that we have seen on the screen here of the proportion of African-Americans who were voting then and now --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- is astounding.
MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: And the major cities -- the major cities, where there were major incidents, are now both run by black mayors.
MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but the court --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: So there has been a transformation, and I think they were responding to it.
MS. CLIFT: Yeah.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: I'm not saying it's accurate, but that is the great achievement of America.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, how about --
MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but the court gives a green --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- (inaudible) -- make provisions to pull Hispanics and Asians in?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yeah, they're all --
MS. CLIFT: The court gives a green light to the kinds of voter suppression that we saw in the last election. And Texas responded immediately after the ruling came down.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions. Mort.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: The Egyptian economy is on the verge of bankruptcy, with only enough foreign reserves to import about three to five months' of food, and then they'll be completely broken.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Interesting.
MS. CLIFT: State Senator Wendy Davis in Texas, with her 11-hour filibuster, will begin to turn the state baby blue.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. Great TV, by the way.
MS. FERRECHIO: The Voting Rights Act, the House will not respond with corresponding legislation.
MS. BERNARD: Given what happened with the Supreme Court on the Voting Rights Act this week, I believe that we are going to see some major, major problems --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.
MS. BERNARD: -- in the South, but that eventually the South is going to become -- (inaudible).
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I'm predicting that your book, as a matter of fact, Michelle, "Moving America Toward Justice, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law," will be a bestseller.
(C) 2013 Federal News Service