News Release

APPA and Others File Amicus Brief on Voting Rights Act
For Immediate Release: 06/17/2010

[Copy from the Equal Justice Society Website: http://www.equaljusticesociety.org/] The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Equal Justice Society and the American Probation and Parole Association, represented pro bono by the law firm Cooley LLP, have filed an amicus brief in Farrakhan v. Gregoire, a case challenging Washington's felon disenfranchisement statute under the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA).

In the case, African-American, Latino and Native American plaintiffs challenged a Washington state law that prohibits individuals with felony convictions from voting while incarcerated, on parole or probation. As a consequence of the racially disparate impact of the criminal justice system and Washington's disenfranchisement law, approximately 24% of black men and 15% of the entire Black population in Washington have lost their voting rights because of a felony conviction.

In January 2010, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that the Washington Statute violated Section 2 of the VRA, which prohibits the use of any voting qualification that results in a denial of the right to vote on account of race or color. In particular, the Court found "compelling" evidence that "minorities are more likely than whites to be searched, arrested, detained, and ultimately prosecuted. If those decision points are infected with racial bias, resulting in some people becoming felons not just because they have committed a crime, but because of their race, then that felon status cannot, under section 2 of the VRA, disqualify felons from voting."

The case is now pending before an en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit.

The amicus brief, filed this week, urges the en banc court to strike down the Washington statute as violating the Voting Rights Act. Specifically, the amicus brief highlights how disenfranchisement functions as a barrier to successful rehabilitation and reentry of prisoners and formerly incarcerated individuals, and emphasizes the damage done to the overall voting strength of minority communities that are most heavily impacted by disenfranchisement.

Download a copy of the brief.