The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will reconsider a ruling by three of its judges that said a part of the Mississippi state constitution which takes the right to vote from thousands of convicts after they complete their sentences amounted to “cruel and unusual punishment.” The ruling by the three judges also said the provision disproportionately affected Black people, Reuters reports. "We look forward to re-briefing the issues and arguing before the full Fifth Circuit in January," Jonathan Youngwood, a lawyer for plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit said in an email. "Voting is the cornerstone of our democratic society." The disputed part of the state constitution mandates lifetime disenfranchisement for people convicted of a set of crimes including murder, rape and theft. A group of convicts sued the state in 2018 to regain their right to vote.
U.S. Circuit Judge James Dennis wrote for the majority last month that the provision, which he said was adopted in 1890 after the U.S. Civil War to "ensure the political supremacy of the white race," violated the U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishments. The provision remained effective in achieving its "racially discriminatory aim," Dennis said. Of the nearly 29,000 Mississippians convicted of disenfranchising offenses who had completed their sentences from 1994 to 2017, 58% were Black, he said. According to the 2020 census, just under 38% of Mississippi residents are Black. Twelve of the 16 currently active judges on the court were appointed by Republicans.