(CN) – The 1st Circuit upheld a Massachusetts law barring jailed felons from voting, rejecting their claim that the law illegally disenfranchises the large number of blacks and Hispanics in prison.
Voters passed the law in response to growing concern over prisoner political mobilization. In response to an earlier, unsuccessful attempt to disenfranchise violent felons, prisoners formed a political action committee aimed at influencing criminal justice issues, including “Draconian laws on punishment.”
By a near 2-1 margin, Massachusetts voters passed a measure disqualifying imprisoned felons from voting in certain elections. The state Legislature later extended the restriction to all state elections.
A group of inmates challenged the provisions in federal court on two grounds: The provisions allegedly violated the Voting Rights Act by disenfranchising minorities, and they unconstitutionally stripped rights from the inmates who could vote before the provisions took effect. The second claim rested on the ex post facto, or “after the fact,” clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The district court let the plaintiffs pursue their Voting Rights Act claim, but dismissed their ex post facto argument.
The Boston-based federal appeals court partially reversed, ordering both claims dismissed.
“We think it clear from the language, history and context of the [Voting Rights Act] that Congress never intended … to prohibit the states from disenfranchising currently incarcerated felons,” Chief Judge Lynch wrote.