NEW YORK — The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) argued before an en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that Washington’s felon disfranchisement law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act because it denies the right to vote to its Black, Latino and Native American citizens on a discriminatory basis. An earlier ruling by a three-judge panel of the same court recognized that Washington’s felon disfranchisement law injected inequality from the criminal justice system into the political process. As a result, an astonishing 24percent of Black men and 15percent of Washington’s Black population have been denied access to the right to vote.
The Ninth Circuit nevertheless held that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act was not satisfied in this situation.
“We are disappointed with the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, which misreads the broad reach of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and leaves a discriminatory system in place,” said Ryan Haygood, who argued the case before the court and is the Co-Director of LDF’s Political Participation Group.
Among other things, Plaintiffs’ evidence showed that prosecutors recommend that African-Americans receive 50percent longer sentences than white defendants with similar records who are convicted of comparable crimes. Where those recommendations are followed, African-Americans and other minorities unjustifiably lose the right to vote for longer periods than white defendants.
“This result should not stand,” said Haygood. “The legislature must act decisively to ensure that racial discrimination in the criminal justice system does not infect our democratic processes.”
Plaintiffs will consider all available options following the Court’s ruling.
LDF is a leader in the struggle to secure the right to vote for people with felony convictions, widely recognized as the next phase of the voting rights movement.