Federal Court Strikes Down Mississippi Jim Crow Law

A Louisiana federal appeals court has ruled that Mississippi can no longer strip the right to vote from formerly incarcerated people after they have completed their sentences.

As NBC News reported, the court called it a cruel and unusual punishment disproportionately affecting Black people and said it was a violation of the 8th Amendment.

Mississippi’s state constitution required a lifetime removal of the right to vote for those convicted of certain crimes, including rape and murder. U.S. Circuit Judge James Dennis, a Democrat, found that Mississippi’s state constitution made sure that former offenders were never actually rehabilitated. Dennis also indicated that the law was adopted post-Civil War to ensure that the system of white supremacy kept rolling along. 

Even though the list of crimes had been revised over the years, the judge found that it still achieved its intended aim: race-based disenfranchisement: 58% of nearly 29,000 ex-offenders whose voting rights were revoked from 1994-2017 were Black.

Furthermore, the judge described the political climate of the country, establishing that Mississippi was attempting to go against the grain to maintain a political system from the days of Jim Crow. Thirty-five states plus the District of Colombia currently have laws that disavow the practice of permanent disenfranchisement for committing crimes.

“This is a major victory for Mississippians who have completed their sentences and deserve to participate fully in our political process,” Johnathan Youngwood, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the class action suit, told NBC News.

In a dissenting opinion, Republican U.S. Circuit Judge Edith Jones, a Reagan appointee, said that a decision by the 1974 Supreme Court established that removing the right to vote from prisoners was not a violation of the equal protection clause in the 4th Amendment.

In addition, a spokesperson for the Republican Attorney General Lynn Finch said she would look to appeal the decision of the court because of that ruling.