Felony Disenfranchisement and Racism

Columbia Law Professor Vivian Berger provides some excellent commentary in the National Law Journal on inherent racism in the application of the felony disenfranchisement laws--laws that prohibit felons from voting--long after they have paid their debt to society.

"These laws have a disproportionate impact on minorities -- 1.4 million black men cannot vote. That is a rate of 13 percent -- seven times the national average. A majority of the disenfranchised live in the South: Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia all bar former prisoners from voting. Some of these states adopted disenfranchisement provisions during Reconstruction in order to evade the 15th Amendment's ban on withholding suffrage from freedmen. (Disenfranchising crimes were carefully selected to disqualify large numbers of blacks.) In Florida and Alabama, the racial effect is greatest; blacks comprise almost 50 percent of the disenfranchised."

"Given the disparate targeting and treatment of blacks by the criminal justice system, felony disenfranchisement adds a second level of insult and injury to minority ex-offenders. It harms individuals and also limits group political power. "

"Recently, several states have repealed or curtailed disenfranchisement provisions, and three bills are pending in Congress that would abolish these voting restrictions in federal elections. Americans should pressure their representatives to pass such laws without delay. "

The Sentencing Project has a lot more information on these laws and the growing movement to end them, as we've written here.

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