In the past year, NCRCR has focused on a few cases related to the disparate impact of felony disenfranchisement on African American men, as well as other people of color. We’ve also highlighted Ashcroft v. Iqbal, in which a Pakistani-American cable installer who was detained on suspicion of terrorism and held under inhumane conditions tried to hold senior government officials accountable for his wrongful arrest, only to have the Supreme Court dismiss his claims while significantly altering the standard for what people have to show just to get their civil cases into court.
Meanwhile, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) has been leading efforts in the court system to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to vote. The numbers around the disenfranchisement of people with felony convictions and race are astonishing, both at a national and a local level:
- More than 1.5 million Black males, or 13% of the adult Black population, are disfranchised—a rate seven times the national average.
- In New York state, Blacks and Latinos collectively comprise 30% of the overall population, but they represent 87% of those denied the right to vote because of a felony conviction.
Appalling as the data may be, countless hurdles still stand in the way of securing people the right to vote. In a case called Hayden v. Paterson, a collection of plaintiffs sued the governor of New York in order to challenge the state’s felon disenfranchisement law (enacted in the early 1800s) on grounds that it violates the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law to all people. In a ruling earlier this year, however, a federal appeals court found that the plaintiffs’ claims in Hayden did not satisfy the new standards adopted in Iqbal for what people need to show to get into court (otherwise known as the pleading standards). Attorneys for the plaintiffs are already back at the drawing board to see what else can be done – but the effect of Iqbal on the felony disenfranchisement case is a strong reminder of how much of an impact rulings about things like the pleadings standard can have for years to come.
While the weight of all societal injustice does not entirely rest on the court system, the judiciary must stop making it more and more difficult to enforce our hard-earned civil rights -- or even simply to access our fundamental right to vote.
(Photo by Still Burning.)