For Immediate Release:
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Washington State Supreme Court to Hear Arguments in Landmark Case Addressing Voting Rights of People With Felony Convictions
Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law Urges Court to Strike Down Last Remnant of the Poll Tax
NEW YORK—The Washington State Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Tuesday, June 27th in Madison v. Washington, a case of national importance in the ongoing effort to expand the right to vote.
The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law filed an amicus curiae brief in the case, urging the Court to declare unconstitutional a Washington law that prevents people with felony convictions from regaining the right to vote solely because they are unable to pay the fees and fines associated with their conviction.
Nine states, including Washington, explicitly condition the restoration of voting rights on an applicants full payment of the financial obligations associated with the conviction. This system results in the permanent disenfranchisement of many individuals. In the Washington State case being heard on Tuesday, Plaintiff Beverly Dubois, represented by the ACLU of Washington, cannot afford monthly payments sufficient to even cover the interest that accrues on her debt. As a result, her total financial obligations continue to increase even as she makes the required payments.
Put simply, Washingtons law and others like it create a poll tax for people who have served their time and are living, working and paying taxes in their communities, said Erika Wood, Associate Counsel for the Brennan Center. Whatever form they take, wealth qualifications are simply incompatible with democracy, said Wood.
The Brennan Center brief filed on behalf of itself, several civil rights organizations, and three Washington minority bar associations argues that Washingtons felony disenfranchisement law is one of the harshest in the nation. The brief reviews national and international law and criminal disenfranchisement rates, summarizes the history of racial discrimination that taints the practice of voter disenfranchisement in the United States, reveals the laws severe disparate impact on the states minority communities, and argues that wealth qualifications for voting are unconstitutional.
Brennan Center Associate Counsel Erika Wood is available to provide background and commentary on the case.