Mississippi Lifetime Ban on Felon Voting Ruled Unconstitutional

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A 5th Circuit Court of Appeals panel of three judges ruled Mississippi’s lifetime ban on voting for certain felony convictions unconstitutional. The Aug. 4, 2023 ruling sends the case back to the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Mississippi and instructs Judge Daniel Jordan III to find the restriction unconstitutional.

Brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center, among other organizations, on behalf of those who have been denied the vote in Mississippi, could reenfranchise about 30,000 Mississippians. The lawsuit alleged the ban amounted to cruel and unusual punishment and the court agreed.

The majority opinion, written by Circuit Judge James Dennis and joined by Carolyn Dineen King, states: “In so excluding former offenders from a basic aspect of democratic life, often long after their sentences have been served, Mississippi inflicts a disproportionate punishment that has been rejected by a majority of the states and, in the independent judgment of this court informed by our precedents, is at odds with society’s evolving standards of decency.”

Judge Edith Jones dissented: “The consequences of committing a felony rarely ends at the prison walls…. Completing a prison sentence does not entitle felons to all the rights they previously possessed.”

The case may be appealed by Mississippi’s Attorney General, Lynn Fitch, whose office opposed the lawsuit, in which case the lawsuit could be heard by the full 5th Circuit Court of Appeals

1. Should people with felony convictions be banned from voting for life? Why or why not?

2. Should anyone be banned from voting? Who and why? Or why not?

3. Should any other restrictions be placed on voting? Which restrictions and why? Or why not?

Shera Avi-Yonah, “Jim Crow-Era Lifetime Ban on Felons Voting Is Unconstitutional, Court Rules,” washingtonpost.com, Aug. 5, 2023

Bobby Harrison, “5th Circuit Panel Strikes Down Mississippi’s Lifetime Felony Voting Ban,” mississippitoday.org, Aug. 4, 2023