(New York, NY) – Yesterday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered rehearing in a case challenging Washington State’s racially discriminatory law that denies the vote to people with felony convictions. A panel of eleven judges will reconsider this important civil rights case.
In the earlier ruling in Farrakhan v. Gregoire, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit found “compelling evidence” that Washington State had failed to “protect minorities from being denied the right to vote upon a conviction by a criminal justice system that Plaintiffs have demonstrated is materially tainted by discrimination and bias.”
Inexplicably, the State did not contest this evidence, thereby conceding that its criminal justice system is infected with racial discrimination at all levels.
Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, enacted to stamp out racial discrimination in voting, prohibits states from using any voting qualification that results in a denial of the right to vote on account of race or color.
“Plaintiffs’ evidence showed that the rate at which Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans are convicted of felony offenses and then disqualified from voting is not reflective of their actual participation in criminal behavior,” said Ryan P. Haygood, Co-Director of LDF’s Political Participation Group. “Our democracy cannot be eroded by compounding the serious injury occurring in Washington’s criminal justice system with the additional sanction of discriminatory felon disfranchisement.”
The Plaintiffs are represented by the University Legal Assistance law clinic at Gonzaga Law School and LDF.
Nationally, more than 5.3 million Americans are denied access to the fundamental right that is preservative of all other rights. An estimated 2 million of the disfranchised, roughly 38%, are African Americans. Maine and Vermont permit prisoners to vote by absentee ballot from prison.