US Supreme Court asked to review Mississippi’s felon disenfranchisement provisions
© WikiMedia Commons (Terri Sewell)
US Supreme Court asked to review Mississippi’s felon disenfranchisement provisions

A petition was filed Friday with the US Supreme Court asking the Court to review the constitutionality of the felon disenfranchisement provision of Mississippi’s 1890 Constitution.

The plaintiffs, Roy Harness and Kamal Karriem, initiated the lawsuit to challenge the felony disenfranchisement provision under the Mississippi Constitution claiming that “Section 241 from the 1890 Constitution is still tainted by the racial animus with which they were originally enacted.”

Harness and Karriem were convicted of forgery and embezzlement in Mississippi. Due to the convictions under the Mississippi Constitution both men were disenfranchised. Both men are seeking injunctive and declaratory relief under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendment so that their voting rights can be restored. Harness and Karriem argue that the provision “continues to carry forward the discriminatory intent that it had in 1890.”

The district court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgement, which lead Harness and Karriem to file an appeal with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal upheld the Mississippi Constitution stating that “the current version of Section 241 superseded the previous provisions and removed the discriminatory taint associated with the provision adopted in 1890.”

The petition asks the Supreme Court to overturn the felony disenfranchisement provision which puts a “lifetime ban” for those convicted of certain felonies from voting. When the provision was enacted in 1890, it was believed that African-Americans were more prone to commit crime. Rape and murder were not included during the enactment of the provision since it was believed that African-Americans were more likely to commit lesser offenses. Murder and rape were not amended into the provision until 1968.

The Defendant, Michael Watson who is the Secretary of State for Mississippi, does not dispute that when the provision was enacted that it was for discriminatory purposes to disenfranchise African-Americans convicted of a crime. The defendant argues that the amendments to the provision change the original “racist” intent.