A new lawsuit aims to loosen Mississippi’s ban on voting by ex-felons, saying it derives directly from Jim Crow.
Mississippi currently disenfranchises for life anyone convicted of committing a long list of crimes, including embezzlement, bribery, arson, and bigamy, as well as murder and rape.
That list is based on language in the 1890 constitution, which aimed to establish white supremacy, and on a 2009 attorney general’s opinion clarifying the law.
The suit, filed by The Mississippi Center for Justice on behalf of three disenfranchised ex-felons, claims the crimes on the list were “those that drafters [of the constitution] believed were committed disproportionately by African-Americans.” And today, the lawsuit says, 60 percent of those disenfranchised by the ban are African-American, although African-Americans make up only 35 percent of the adult population.
As a result, the suit alleges, the ban violates the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
The suit names Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann as a defendant. His office has declined to comment.
It’s the latest bid to weaken felon disenfranchisement laws. Alabama recently passed a law that shortens the list of crimes that lead to disenfranchisement, with the result that tens thousands of ex-felons can now vote (though the state is doing little to get the word out about the change).
Virginia and Maryland both have restored voting rights to large numbers of ex-felons in recent years. And in Florida, home to over a quarter of disenfranchised former felons in the U.S., a campaign to restore felon voting rights via ballot initiative is gathering steam.