Mississippi’s lifetime voting ban for citizens convicted of any disenfranchising offense made it one of only four states to impose such a ban. The SPLC filed a federal lawsuit challenging the ban, which also disproportionately impacted African-American voters.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Mississippians seeking to regain their right to vote, describes how the ban violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment as well as Section 2 of the 14th Amendment, which says that states cannot permanently deny a person’s right to vote. The lawsuit also challenged Mississippi’s legislative process for restoring citizens’ voting rights – a process that violated citizens’ First Amendment right to political expression and association.
The lawsuit describes how the legislative process violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment on two grounds: It arbitrarily granted or deprived American citizens of the right to vote, and it was intended to discriminate on the basis of race.
Only a handful of citizens have succeeded in persuading a legislator to introduce a suffrage bill on their behalf. Of the bills introduced, most failed to win the required votes in both houses of the Legislature.
Plaintiff Herman Parker lost his right to vote when he was convicted of grand larceny in 1993. More than 14 years after completing his sentence, he was able to convince a representative to sponsor a suffrage bill. The House of Representatives voted in favor of the bill, but it failed in the Senate. As a result, Parker was still banned from voting.
The lawsuit describes how other plaintiffs, such as Dennis Hopkins, were disenfranchised long after paying their debt to society. Twenty years after being convicted of grand larceny, Hopkins had become a business owner, coached T-ball, baseball, and softball teams, and founded a championship-winning peewee football team. He and his wife – an elementary school teacher and school bus driver – have been foster and adoptive parents, raising eight children. Despite paying his debt in full, he couldn’t cast his vote for his children’s future.
The lawsuit was filed with the law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP.