Aug 27, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Mississippi can still block felons from voting, court rules

A voter casts his ballot in Mississippi.
A voter casts his ballot at Highland Colony Baptist Church in November 2018 in Ridgeland, Miss. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

A federal appeals court upheld a Mississippi law Wednesday that restricts voting rights for felons.

Why it matters: The law, which was developed during the Jim Crow era, blocks former felons from voting. Close to 5.85 million Americans with felony and misdemeanor convictions cannot vote across the country, according to the ACLU.

Driving the news: The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 10-7 Wednesday that the Mississippi state constitution's restriction, Section 241, was no longer considered racist even though it had been written with racist ideas in mind.

  • “It is uncontroverted that the state constitutional convention was steeped in racism and that ‘the state was motivated by a desire to discriminate against blacks’ when the 1890 constitution was adopted,” the majority opinion reads.
  • Yes, but: The court said the plaintiffs did not show the current version of the law "was motivated by discriminatory intent."
  • "In addition, Mississippi has conclusively shown that any taint associated with Section 241 has been cured.”

Catch up quick: The Mississippi Center for Justice filed a lawsuit against the law after two Black men lost their right to vote after they were convicted of felonies.

  • The lawsuit claimed the law, which has been amended several times, should be considered unconstitutional for violating the 14th Amendment and because it was drafted with racist intent, per The Hill.

State of play: Mississippi's state constitution currently prevents those convicted of felonies — including forgery, bigamy, larceny, carjacking and dozens more — from voting, the Associated Press reports.

  • To regain voting rights, convicted people must receive a governor's pardon or win permission from a two-thirds vote through the state House and Senate, per AP.

The big picture: Multiple states have laws that restrict people with felony convictions or people in prison from voting, per the ACLU.

  • 17 states say people in prison can't vote, according to the ACLU.
  • In Kentucky and Virginia, everyone who has a felony conviction is permanently disenfranchised from voting.
  • New York and Connecticut disallow those in prison and on parole from voting. All other people with convictions can vote.

Meanwhile, 19 states allow people with convictions to vote after completing their sentence, the ACLU said.

  • 8 states allow some people with felony convictions to vote.
  • Maine and Vermont allow everyone to vote.

What's next: Attorney Rob McDuff will ask the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling, per AP.

Go deeper: The sticky web of felon voting laws

Go deeper