(CN) – A federal appeals court in Manhattan affirmed dismissal of a lawsuit accusing New York of intentionally discriminating against blacks and Latinos by barring convicted felons from voting while in prison or on parole.
Ex-felon Joseph “Jazz” Hayden and others argued that felon disenfranchisement laws showed a clear history of racial discrimination and continue to have a disparate impact on blacks and Latinos.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence McKenna dismissed the claims, including allegations that such laws violated the Voting Rights Act.
The 2nd Circuit, sitting en banc, dismissed that portion of the challenge in 2006, ruling that the VRA doesn’t apply to prisoner disenfranchisement laws.
Turning to the remaining constitutional claims – alleged violations of the 14th and 15th Amendments’ equal protection provisions – a three-judge panel again sided with Judge McKenna.
The 2nd Circuit acknowledged that the plaintiffs “have alleged sufficient facts to show that the 1821, 1846 and 1874 constitutional provisions were enacted with a racially discriminatory purpose,” but the judges noted a “fatal” oversight: the plaintiffs failed to allege that this “invidious purpose” motivated the statutory provisions.
The panel also dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim that the laws violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment by disenfranchising only felons sentenced to incarceration or serving parole, not those sentenced to probation.
“It is true that there remains some oddity in the laws in that those who have finished their prison terms, but are still on parole, are denied the right to vote while those with suspended sentences are not,” Judge Chester Straub wrote. “However, rational basis allows Legislatures to act incrementally and to pass laws that are over (and under) inclusive without violating the 14th Amendment.”
Though the court upheld Judge McKenna’s ruling, it remanded to allow the plaintiffs to amend their discrimination claim.