From an August 6th, 2023 Michigan Chronicle article by Ebony JJ Curry
In a landmark ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit declared that the Mississippi Constitution’s Section 241, which imposed a lifetime voting ban on individuals with certain felony convictions even after they’ve served their sentences, is in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Court cited this section as a form of cruel and unusual punishment, emphasizing that it perpetually penalizes individuals beyond their sentence duration and provides no protective function to the community.
Established in the Mississippi Constitution of 1890, Section 241 has remained a contentious provision that stripped countless citizens of their voting rights after they’ve fully served their sentences. This ban affected tens of thousands of Mississippians, leaving them disenfranchised and detached from the democratic process.
Before this ruling, the black community in Mississippi disproportionately felt the impact of this voting restriction. Historically, voting bans like Section 241 have roots in post-Reconstruction-era efforts aimed at curbing Black political influence. By targeting crimes believed to be committed more frequently by Black individuals, these laws disproportionately deprived them of their voting rights.
In 2018, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, LLP launched a lawsuit against this provision. The plaintiffs argued that Mississippi’s lifetime voting bans not only arbitrarily grant or deprive citizens of their voting rights but were also designed with the intent to racially discriminate.
“Section 241 of the Mississippi Constitution lifetime disenfranchisement scheme disproportionately impacted Black Mississippians,” said Ahmed Soussi, staff attorney for the SPLC. “We applaud the court for reversing this cruel and harmful practice and restoring the right to vote to tens of thousands of people who have completed their sentences.”
With the Fifth Circuit’s decision, the path to voting rights restoration for tens of thousands of Mississippians has been paved. This decision is not only a legal victory but also a symbolic win for the state’s Black community and the Black community nationally, signaling an end to a provision that has contributed to their historical disenfranchisement.
“By severing former offenders from the body politic forever, Section 241 [of Article XII of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890] 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. It is thus a cruel and unusual punishment,” the decision states.
Furthermore, advocates believe that this decision could potentially set a precedent for challenging similar laws in other states, catalyzing a national conversation about the nature and duration of felon disenfranchisement and its ramifications on democracy and civil rights.
Ebony JJ is a master journalist who has an extensive background in all areas of journalism with an emphasis on politics, community, and social justice. She serves as senior reporter and can be reached via email: [email protected]