The authors of Mississippi’s 1890 constitution had racist intent when they stripped voting rights from people convicted of some felonies because they chose crimes they thought were more likely to be committed by Black people, an attorney argued Wednesday in a federal appeals court.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals should overturn most of Mississippi’s felon disenfranchisement plan, attorney Donald B. Verrilli Jr. argued on behalf of people with felony convictions. The case could affect thousands who have lost voting rights.
“Because the 1890 provisions were unconstitutional, they were invalid from the moment that they’re enacted,”
Attorneys representing the state said Mississippi dropped burglary from the list of disenfranchising crimes in 1950 and added murder and rape to the list in 1968. They said in written arguments that those changes “cured any discriminatory taint on the original provision.”
“The ultimate question for this court is whether the Mississippi Constitution’s felon disenfranchisement provision comports with the equal protection clause. It does,” Mississippi’s deputy solicitor general, Justin Matheny, told the appeals court judges.