- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Your editorial, “The franchise for felons” (Opinion, Friday), fails to grasp the powerful point Judge Sonia Sotomayor made in her dissent in Hayden v. Pataki, which is this: A simple reading of the Voting Rights Act makes clear that states may not impose voting qualifications that deny the right to vote on account of race.

New York’s felony disenfranchisement law, like similar laws throughout the country, does just that. Nationwide, 13 percent of black men are disenfranchised because of a criminal conviction. More than 80 percent of those currently denied the right to vote under New York’s law are black and Latino.

No one can deny the long history in our country of states finding creative ways to deny blacks the right to vote. Criminal disenfranchisement laws are part of this ugly history. Many of them were put in place during the Jim Crow era, right alongside poll taxes and literacy tests, to keep blacks from voting.

A careful reading of New York’s constitutional history reveals that at the very time the 14th and 15th Amendments forced New York to remove its nefarious property requirements for black voters, the state changed its law from allowing to requiring the disenfranchisement of those convicted of “infamous crimes.”

Congress passed the Voting Rights Act to put an end to discriminatory voting requirements. Poll taxes and literacy tests have been challenged and eliminated under the law. Judge Sotomayor simply recognized that this remnant of Jim Crow also should have its day in court.


Deputy director

Democracy Program

Brennan Center for Justice

New York University School of Law

New York City

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