Suffrage Out of Reach for Felons in 48 States

More than one million black men are affected by the SupremeCourt’s Monday decision not to hear New York andWashington cases which could determine whether states violate thefederal Voting Rights Act when felons are stripped of their rightto vote.

Currently, 48 states, all except Maine andVermont, disenfranchise millions of people who have been convictedof crimes, yet the court’s decision does not prevent theiracceptance of a future case.

The Voting Rights Act prohibits states fromracially discriminating against a particular group in extended theright to vote. Voting qualifications or prerequisites such asconsidering felons as ineligible for suffrage could create a strongargument in court.

Inmate and their advocates who are filing thelawsuits highlight that felon-disenfranchisement lawsdisproportionately impact people of color, particularlyAfrican-American men. An estimated 3.9 million people are barredfrom voting under such the state laws and more than one-third ofthem are black men.

The intention of the Voting Rights Act of 1965is in question. It was amended in 1982 to clearly prohibit votingpolicies that had the intent but also the effect of discriminatingby race.

Two federal appeals courtsacted differently on the question in cases that thejustices considered and rejected Monday. The Washington state casecame from the 9th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which allowed thelawsuit filed by six felons to proceed. A similar case brought by aNew York convict was dismissed by the 2nd U. S. Circuit Cout ofAppeals, which reasoned that the Voting Rights Act was notapplicable to the case.