First Circuit Upholds MA Prisoner Disenfranchisment Law

Last week, the First Circuit ruled 2-1, in Simmons v Galvin, that nothing in the federal Voting Rights Act prevents Massachusetts from ending the ability of felons to vote absentee while in prison.

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act states as follows:

“No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State…in a manner which results in a denial or abridgement of the right…to vote on account of race or color.”

The argument of plaintiffs in this case was that Massachusetts’ felon disenfranchisement law has a disproportionally adverse effect on African-Americans and Hispanic Americans, who are overrepresented in the incarcerated felon population. The two-judge majority, composed of Judges Sandra Lynch and Michael Boudin, determined that Congress never expected that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act could be used for that purpose. The dissenting judge, Juan Torruella, said that Section 2’s language is clear and unambiguous, and therefore speculations about what Congress intended are irrelevant. He also would have held that the 2000 law change is an Ex Post Facto punishment, as applied to felons who had committed their crimes before the year 2000. The majority rejected the Ex Post Facto argument by concluding that felon disenfranchisement is not punishment.

Read the opinions here.

2 responses to “First Circuit Upholds MA Prisoner Disenfranchisment Law

  1. I actually agree with restoring the voting rights of previously convicted felons including those on probation and suspended sentences.
    I only opposed the RI referendum because it included parolees.
    People actually incarcerated and parolees are still inmates,even though parolees are physically at liberty.
    When one is incarcerated or on parole,voting rights is only one of many rights forfeited.How about the right against search and seizure without due process?
    Parolees and their living quarters are subject to warrantless search at any time at the discretion of a parole officer.
    Inmates of course,are subject to search 24/7.
    Some rights are forfeited as a result of a criminal conviction.
    If you want to take this argument to its logical conclusion,the right to continue living is taken away in capital cases when a convicted offender is executed.
    I don’t think it is unreasonable to deny voting rights to inmates and aprolees.
    Prrobation and suspended sentences are designed to help an offender re-enter society with an increasing degree of normalcy,so voting rights are appropriate.

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