SPLC and Simpson Thacher Support Petition for Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to Mississippi’s Practice of Removing Voting Rights from Mississippians with Certain Felony Convictions
Washington, D.C. – Today the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP signed an Amicus Brief on behalf of tens of thousands of Mississippians urging the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case that could restore their voting rights. The case, Harness vs. Watson, challenges Mississippi’s practice of removing voting rights for individuals with certain felony convictions on the basis that it violates individuals’ right to equal protection.
Harness vs. Watson was brought by the Mississippi Center for Justice and cooperating law firms, who are petitioning for the case to be heard before the U.S. Supreme Court. SPLC and Simpson Thacher have filed a different challenge to Mississippi’s disenfranchisement and re-enfranchisement system, Hopkins vs. Hosemann, which remains pending before the Fifth Circuit.
The amicus brief is available HERE
“Mississippi currently strips the freedom to vote from tens of thousands of its residents in a system that was designed to deny a fair voice to the Black community,” said Ahmed Soussi, staff attorney for voting rights with the SPLC. “That system cannot be allowed to stand. We ask the Supreme Court to take up this case and defend the fundamental right to vote for Mississippians.”
“The right to participate in the democratic process is the bedrock of our society. Mississippi unfortunately has a racially discriminatory, unconstitutional system of criminal disenfranchisement, which has persisted for more than 130 years,” said Jonathan K. Youngwood, Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Simpson Thacher. “Like the plaintiffs in Harness, the Hopkins plaintiffs have a strong personal interest in seeing this scheme dismantled and we will also continue to pursue the meritorious and constitutional challenges to Mississippi’s criminal disenfranchisement scheme in the Hopkins class action litigation.”
In 1890, Mississippi adopted a state constitution specifically intended to prevent formerly enslaved people and their descendants from gaining political influence, in part by blocking their access to the ballot box. The lifetime voting ban for people with felony convictions established by that constitution is still in effect. Mississippi’s lifetime voting ban permanently strips residents of their right to vote if convicted of disqualifying offenses such as writing a bad check or petty larceny.
Once lost, Mississippians have only two ways to regain their right to vote: at the behest of the governor or through a suffrage bill passed by the state legislature. The majority of Mississippians who are banned from voting have completed their sentences. In recent decades, Black voting-age Mississippians have been disenfranchised at more than twice the rate of white voting-age Mississippians.