A Pragmatic Approach to Challenging Felon Disenfranchisement Law

Author(s): 
Avner Shapiro
Publication Date: 
January 17, 2017

Felon disenfranchisement is a longstanding practice in most of our fifty states, but its scope has dramatically expanded in recent decades due to the “War on Drugs” and the resulting system of mass criminalization. People of color have been disproportionately impacted by felon disenfranchisement laws, with African Americans representing more than one third of the 6.1 million whose right to vote has been taken away. While several courts have considered whether felon disenfranchisement laws violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act because of these racial disparities, and one such challenge is pending right now in a federal court in Alabama, so far courts have been reluctant to use Section 2 to to strike them down. In this Issue Brief, Avner Shapiro analyzes why "courts would be more receptive to an as-applied Section 2 lawsuit focusing only on disenfranchised African-American ex-felons convicted of low-level, non-violent drug offenses."