The New Grandfather Clause: Illegally Disenfranchising 11% of New Orleans, and Other Tidbits

Upon moving from Rhode Island to Louisiana, I was curious about my voting rights.  In 2006, I was part of a small group of people to move Rhode Island voters to amend their constitution- and re-enfranchise people on probation and parole.  So it was with more than a passing interest that I stayed up late in my law school classrooms researching the situation in Louisiana.  I worked hard to get voting rights and be a step closer to being a “citizen” of this country, and now it is (personally) all for naught.

Louisiana will let me get a law degree, but I can’t vote.  But all is not what it would seem. It just so happens that Louisiana, with a long history of voting rights challenges, has overstepped their own constitution; and is also in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  The full report is here:

The New Grandfather Clause: How Louisiana Defies the Voting Rights Act and Their Own Constitution

In summary, the 1974 Louisiana constitution barred people “under order of imprisonment” from voting.  This was interpreted at the time to include people in prison and on parole, but not people on probation.  In 1977, the Louisiana legislature found a way around that by re-defining the phrase to include people on probation.  This may sound very tidy, but constitutional changes need to be taken to the voters.

Louisiana is also a “covered” jurisdiction in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.  In fact, they are probably the MOST covered, as these particular states were deemed special due to their historical antagonism towards aspiring Black voters.  Under Section 5, all jurisdictions such as Louisiana need to propose voting changes to the U.S. Justice Department.  The state needs to show that the change will not have a disparate impact against recognized minority groups.  As it turns out, believe it or not, but the mark of a criminal record (and the discriminations that flow from it) has a massively disproportionate impact on People of Color.  It is the New Jim Crow, for daily discriminations, and the New Grandfather Clause for voting purposes.

I have no idea why Attorney General Holder, who was just in New Orleans, is not enforcing the Voting Rights Act in Louisiana.  I now live in a city where 11% of us are denied the right to vote… in a state where Black people are

twice as likely as White people to be disenfranchised… in a country that espouses democracy to the rest of the entire world.

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About Bruce Reilly

Bruce Reilly is the Deputy Director of Voice of the Ex-Offender in New Orleans, LA. He is a graduate of Tulane Law School and author of NewJack's Guide to the Big House. Much of his writing can be found on www.Unprison.org.
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