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Supreme Court Turns Down Historic Voting Rights Case

For Imme­di­ate Release
Monday, Novem­ber 14, 2005

Supreme Court Turns Down Historic Voting Rights Case

The United States Supreme Court today declined to review a case chal­len­ging Flor­i­das 137-year-old ban on voting by people with felony convic­tions. The decision fore­closes all judi­cial redress of a discrim­in­at­ory policy that bars more than 600,000 people from the polls. The lawsuit, John­son v. Bush, sought to restore the voting rights of work­ing, tax-paying members of their communit­ies who have fully served their crim­inal sentences but remain barred from the polls, almost always for life. Under the controlling lower court decisions, plaintiffs were denied the oppor­tun­ity to prove at trial that the Flor­ida law viol­ates the Voting Rights Act and the Consti­tu­tion.

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This is a sad day for our demo­cracy, said Cath­er­ine Weiss, asso­ci­ate coun­sel for the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, which is lead coun­sel in John­son v. Bush. The Court has not only missed an oppor­tun­ity to right a great historic injustice, it has shut the court­house door in the face of hundreds of thou­sands of disen­fran­chised citizens.

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We are deeply disap­poin­ted by the Supreme Courts denial of certi­or­ari, said Cour­tenay Strick­land, chair of the Flor­ida Rights Restor­a­tion Coali­tion. Flor­i­das 19th century voting ban has created a 21st century civil rights crisis in our state. One in 10 African-Amer­ic­ans is barred from voting under this ban. But if the Court wont stand up for what is right, the people will. We intend to make sure that Flor­ida Legis­lature and the elect­or­ate move forward to restore the rights the Supreme Court turned its back on today.

While the Supreme Courts decision ended the lawsuit chal­len­ging Flor­i­das perman­ent disen­fran­chise­ment policy, the battle is not over. Concerned Flor­idi­ans are work­ing to place voting rights restor­a­tion on the statewide ballot for approval by the voters.

Across the nation and through­out the world, the trend has been towards restor­ing rights to people with crim­inal convic­tions. In the last year alone, Nebraska and Iowa ended their perman­ent disen­fran­chise­ment policies, and the Rhode Island legis­lature sent to the 2006 ballot a state consti­tu­tional amend­ment that would restore voting rights imme­di­ately follow­ing incar­cer­a­tion. Inter­na­tion­ally, the European Court of Human Rights recently recog­nized the right to vote as a human right that should be barred only under extraordin­ary circum­stances and never as blanket policy. The European Courts move promp­ted the New York Times to call for a full hear­ing on the issue in the United Statesan invit­a­tion the Supreme Court declined today.

The voting ban, part of Flor­i­das 1868 consti­tu­tion, bars people like Jaudohn Hicks from the most basic form of polit­ical parti­cip­a­tion. Mr. Hicks is a named Plaintiff in the case. He was released from prison in 1991 and has since completed train­ing as both a fire­fighter and an emer­gency medical tech­ni­cian, but he has not regained his rights. I want to vote to show my three daugh­ters that I have put my mistakes behind me and become a contrib­ut­ing member of our community. I work, I pay taxes, Im rais­ing my chil­drenI want my voice back. I am shocked by the Courts action today because now I have no hope that the courts will help me win back the rights that have been unjustly stripped from me. And the courts used to be the cham­pi­ons of people like me.

Said Marian Bacon White, Pres­id­ent of the 11th Epis­copal District Lay Organ­iz­a­tion of the African Meth­od­ist Epis­copal Church, We must welcome back into our communit­ies people who have completed their crim­inal sentences and are trying to rebuild their lives. We should encour­age their parti­cip­a­tion in all aspects of lifere­li­gious, social, economic, and polit­ical. Voting is one vital way that a person may reclaim his place among us.

Todays action by the Supreme Court deny­ing certi­or­ari in John­son v. Bush leaves in place a decision by the full Federal Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit that fore­closed a chal­lenge under the Voting Rights Act and upheld the consti­tu­tion­al­ity of Flor­i­das voting ban.

The Bren­nan Center led a team of plaintiffs coun­sel that also included Debevoise & Plimp­ton, LLP; Morrison & Foer­ster; LLP, UNC School of Law Center for Civil Rights; Flor­ida Justice Insti­tute; James K. Green, PA; and Lawyers Commit­tee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Addi­tional inform­a­tion can be found on the Center’s John­son v. Bush page.