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Mississippi’s Lifetime Felony Voting Ban Unconstitutional, Appeals Court Rules

Mississippi’s lifetime voting ban for people convicted of certain crimes, a relic of the State’s 1890 Jim Crow laws, violates the U.S. Constitution, a federal appeals court ruled Friday morning.

U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge James L. Dennis, writing for a 2-1 majority of a three-judge panel, said in the ruling this morning that “Plaintiffs are entitled to prevail on their claim that, as applied to their class, disenfranchisement for life under Section 241 is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment within the meaning of the Eighth Amendment.”

Read the 5th Circuit’s opinion in Hopkins v. Hosemann

“In the last fifty years, a national consensus has emerged among the state legislatures against permanently disenfranchising those who have satisfied their judicially imposed sentences and thus repaid their debts to society. … Mississippi stands as an outlier among its sister states, bucking a clear national trend in our Nation against permanent disenfranchisement,” the ruling says.

Under Section 241 of the Mississippi Constitution, people can only regain voting rights either by a governor’s pardon or through an act of the Legislature. The current governor has not issued any pardons since he became governor in 2020, and the Legislature at most passes bills restoring voter rights to a few voters each year. Tens of thousands of Mississippi residents are disenfranchised for life—most of them Black.

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“By severing former offenders from the body politic forever, 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 ruling says. “It is thus a cruel and unusual punishment.”

Court Previously Upheld Section 241

The 5th Circuit previously upheld Section 241 in an August 2022 ruling. Judge James E. Graves Jr., a Black judge from Mississippi, dissented from that ruling, saying that “handed an opportunity to right a 130-year-old wrong, the majority instead upholds it.”

The U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear an appeal in that case, inviting a scorching dissent from Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

In an Aug. 2022 dissent, U.S. 5th Circuit Judge James E. Graves Jr.,

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