Published on: Sunday, August 6, 2023

Mississippi’s lifetime ban on voting for felons convicted of some crimes serves no legitimate penological purpose and violates their rights under the Eighth Amendment, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday (article available here).

The court ruled that Mississippi’s state constitution Section 241 “ensures that they will never be fully rehabilitated, continues to punish them beyond the term their culpability requires, and serves no protective function to society.”

The Mississippi Constitution as enacted in 1890 had a goal “to ensure the political supremacy of the white race,” the appeals court said.

The Mississippi Constitution created a “safety net” by allowing restoration of voting rights for any person with a two-thirds vote of both houses of the legislature. That provision could have been used to benefit white people who were disenfranchised, the appeals court said.

“In so excluding former offenders from a basic aspect of democratic life, often long after their sentences have been served, Mississippi inflicts a disproportionate punishment that has been rejected by a majority of the states and, in the independent judgment of this court informed by our precedents, is at odds with society’s evolving standards of decency.”

Mississippi “expects to seek further review,” said a spokeswoman for Mississippi attorney general.

The case is Hopkins v. Hosemann.