Supreme Court won’t hear challenge to Jim Crow-era Mississippi bans blocking some felons from voting

Jun 30, 2023, 11:27 AM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court said Friday that it will not stop Mississippi from removing voting rights from people convicted of certain felonies — a practice that originated in the Jim Crow era with the intent of stopping Black men from influencing elections.

The court declined to reconsider a 2022 decision by the conservative 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said Mississippi had remedied the discriminatory intent of the original provisions in the state constitution by altering the list of disenfranchising crimes.

In a dissent Friday, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote that the authors of the Mississippi Constitution in 1890 made clear that they intended to exclude Black people by removing voting rights for felony convictions in crimes they thought Black people were more likely to commit, including forgery, arson and bigamy.

The list of disenfranchising crimes was “adopted for an illicit discriminatory purpose,” Brown Jackson wrote in the dissent joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The Supreme Court rejected a challenge to Mississippi’s felony disenfranchisement provisions 125 years ago, and “this Court blinks again today,” Brown Jackson wrote.

“Constitutional wrongs do not right themselves,” she wrote. “With its failure to take action, the Court has missed yet another opportunity to learn from its mistakes.”

In 1950, Mississippi dropped burglary from the list of disenfranchising crimes. Murder and rape were added to the list in 1968. Attorneys representing the state argued that those changes “cured any discriminatory taint on the original provision,” and the appeals court agreed.

The Mississippi attorney general issued an opinion in 2009 that expanded the list to 22 crimes, including timber larceny, carjacking, felony-level shoplifting and felony-level bad check writing.

Attorneys from the Mississippi Center for Justice filed a lawsuit in 2017 to challenge the disenfranchising provisions, arguing that authors of the state’s constitution showed racist intent when they chose which felonies would cause people to lose their voting rights. The lawsuit did not challenge the disenfranchisement for conviction of murder or rape.

To regain voting rights in Mississippi now, a person convicted of a disenfranchising crime must receive a governor’s pardon or must win permission from two-thirds of the state House and Senate. Legislators in recent years have restored voting rights for only a few people.

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Supreme Court won’t hear challenge to Jim Crow-era Mississippi bans blocking some felons from voting