By Estelle Rogers, Director of Advocacy, Project Vote
Some good news came out of Washington Tuesday.
Sound unlikely? That's because the news comes from the STATE of Washington, where the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals essentially struck down the state's felon disenfranchisement law because it's racially discriminatory and violates the federal Voting Rights Act.
The case, Farrakhan v. Gregoire, has been in the federal courts since 1996, when the plaintiffs -- all minority citizens who had been convicted of felonies -- sued the state, claiming that the disenfranchisement law discriminated on the basis of race because Washington disproportionately prosecutes and sentences minorities. They produced some compelling social science research to show that disparities in Washington's rates of criminal investigation, vehicle searches, arrest, bail recommendations, and confinement could not be explained by "legitimate" factors, such as the higher rate of minority involvement in criminal activity. Rather, the court concluded, the state's criminal justice system is riddled with racial discrimination at every stage.
Amazingly, the state didn't dispute the social science evidence, but merely claimed that, even assuming its validity, it is legally insufficient to sustain the plaintiffs' claim under the Voting Rights Act that the felon disenfranchisement law results in the denial of the right to vote on account of race. The court disagreed.
So now what?