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Lawyers Successfully Argued Against a Jim Crow-Era Voting Ban for Felons

  • Mississippi lawyers successfully argued against a lifetime voting ban for felons.
  • The lawyers relied on the Eighth Amendment to make their case.
  • They took a different approach than previous challenges to the same law.

Mississippi lawmakers in 1890 drafted a new state constitution designed to strip Black Americans of their voting rights by implementing a poll tax and literacy tests. These Jim Crow-era laws included a lifetime voting ban on any Mississippi resident convicted of certain felonies.

That lifetime ban is still in effect in the state today, more than 130 years later.

Now, a Mississippi legal team is seeking to repeal the law — and they secured a win in a federal appeals court last week after arguing the provision constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. The victory came in the 5th Circuit, one of the country’s most conservative, the Washington Post reports.

Previous challenges to the law have argued it violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, the Post reports. However, these arguments have not yet been effective — and the Supreme Court even denied to take up one of these challenges in June. 

While the law is still in effect, if this latest ruling sticks, it could restore voting rights to 30,000 people in the state, according to the Post.

A spokesperson for Lynn Fitch — the state’s attorney general — told the Post she plans to seek further review of the case. Fitch’s options include seeking an en banc review, which allows a larger pool of 5th Circuit judges to review the case, according to the Post.

There are 11 states that have similar voting laws for people convicted of a felony — and each of them strip voting rights until they have completed their sentences, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Additional requirements in these states include indefinite bans for some crimes or additional waiting periods after someone completes their sentence.

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