Supreme Court Asked To Restore Felon Voting Rights In Mississippi

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by Tyler Durden
Wednesday, Nov 02, 2022 - 03:25 AM

Authored by Matthew Vadum via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

A left-wing civil rights group is asking the Supreme Court to review the felon disfranchisement provision of the Mississippi Constitution that permanently prevents certain felons from voting, claiming the law is rooted in racial animus.

The U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington on Oct. 3, 2022. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The appeal is not expected to affect the approaching Nov. 8 elections.

The petition (pdf) in the case, Harness v. Watson, is expected to be docketed by the Supreme Court in the coming days. The respondent, Michael Watson, is Mississippi’s Republican secretary of state.

The petitioners, Roy Harness and Kamal Karriem, are black Mississippi residents. Harness was convicted of forgery in 1986. Karriem, a former Columbus city council member, was convicted of embezzlement in 2005. Both have completed their sentences.

According to a summary provided by the Mississippi Center for Justice, which is representing the men, Section 241 of the Constitution permanently blocks anyone from voting who was convicted of certain crimes that the original framers of the document believed were committed mostly by black people.

The state constitution bars those convicted of murder, rape, bribery, theft, arson, obtaining money or goods under false pretenses, perjury, forgery, embezzlement, or bigamy, from voting.

“It was one of several voting provisions in the 1890 Constitution designed to take the vote away from Black citizens who had obtained it during the Reconstruction period after the abolition of slavery and the end of the Civil War,” the summary states. “The other discriminatory provisions, including the poll tax and the so-called understanding clause, were eliminated in the 1960s in response to federal court orders and the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.”

Rob McDuff is the attorney for the plaintiffs and the director of the Impact Litigation Project at the Mississippi Center for Justice.

“At a time when our state and nation are struggling with the vestiges of a history of racism, it is important that the United States Supreme Court step in to address this remaining vestige of the malicious 1890 plan to prevent an entire race of people from voting in Mississippi,” McDuff said.

“Although the Supreme Court has become more conservative in recent years, we hope it will see that the continued implementation of this racist provision is an affront to the promise of the Equal Protection of the Law contained in the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

A federal district court upheld the ban, concluding it was bound by the 1998 ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in Cotton v. Fordice, which held that the “discriminatory taint associated with the original version” had been erased when burglary was removed from Section 241 in 1950 and rape and murder were added as disenfranchising crimes in 1968.

Because a majority of voters approved these racially neutral amendments to the provision in 1950 and 1968 and discriminatory animus was not a factor at those times, Section 241 was “redeem[ed] … from its unconstitutional provenance.”

The district court ruling was affirmed by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. In August all 17 judges on the 5th Circuit reviewed the ruling and voted 10–7 to uphold the ban.

The 10-member majority acknowledged (pdf) the state’s 1890 constitutional convention was “steeped in racism,” that the “state was motivated by a desire to discriminate against blacks,” and that Section 241 was a “device that the convention exploited to deny the franchise to blacks.”

But any discriminatory intent was “cured” by the later constitutional amendments, the majority stated.

The Epoch Times reached out to Watson for comment but his office did not immediately respond.