Updated: Aug 7
Mississippi violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment by permanently removing voting rights from people convicted of some felonies, a federal appeals court panel ruled. Two judges on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the Mississippi secretary of state to stop enforcing a provision in the state constitution that disenfranchises people convicted of specific crimes, including murder, forgery and bigamy, reports the Associated Press. If the ruling stands, tens of thousands of people could regain voting rights, possibly in time for the Nov. 7 general election for governor and other statewide offices. Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch will ask the full appeals court to reconsider the panel’s 2-1 ruling. In a lawsuit last year, the 5th Circuit declined to overturn Mississippi’s felony disenfranchisement provisions. The U.S. Supreme Court would not consider the case, allowing the ruling to stand. The suit that the Supreme Court declined was based on arguments about equal protection. Plaintiffs said the Jim Crow-era authors of the Mississippi Constitution stripped voting rights for crimes they thought Black people were more likely to commit.
The lawsuit that the appeals court panel ruled on Friday is based on arguments that Mississippi is imposing cruel and unusual punishment with a lifetime ban on voting after some convictions. “Mississippi stands as an outlier among its sister states, bucking a clear and consistent trend in our Nation against permanent disenfranchisement,” wrote Judges Carolyn Dineen King and James Dennis. Under the state constitution, people convicted of 10 felonies — including bribery, theft and arson — lose the right to vote. The previous attorney general expanded the list to 22 crimes, including timber larceny and carjacking. In recent months, state officials in North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia have taken steps to make it far more difficult for people with felony convictions to register to vote, leading to concern among voting rights activists who have successfully changed laws in states in recent years, reports Stateline.