11th Circuit Dismisses Lawsuit Challenging Alabama’s Felony Disenfranchisement Policy
WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, April 26, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a lawsuit that challenged Alabama’s felony disenfranchisement scheme. This decision stems from a case filed in 2016 by Greater Birmingham Ministries, individuals and a class of citizens who are not registered to vote due to past felony convictions. The lawsuit challenged a provision of the Alabama Constitution, Alabama law and Alabama’s voter registration forms, all of which disenfranchise individuals with prior felony convictions.
The plaintiffs alleged that Alabama’s felony disenfranchisement scheme violates the U.S. Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). In addition, the plaintiffs challenged Alabama’s state and federal voter registration forms, alleging the forms violated the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) because they do not include a list of all of the disqualifying felonies under Alabama law. On Dec. 3, 2020, a district court judge granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment and denied the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, thereby dismissing the case and keeping the felony disenfranchisement policy in place. The plaintiffs appealed this decision to the 11th Circuit.
In yesterday’s opinion, the 11th Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants, thereby ending the case. In the opinion, the court wrote that a 1996 amendment to the Alabama Constitution “successfully dissipated the racially discriminatory taint” of the original 1901 provision and therefore the felony disenfranchisement scheme does not violate the U.S. Constitution. In regard to the state’s registration forms, the court found that “Alabama’s mail voting registration form complies with the NVRA.” Notably, according to the Sentencing Project, more than eight percent of Alabama’s adult population is disenfranchised. The 11th Circuit’s decision is a loss for voters, especially those with previous felony convictions who are at risk of disenfranchisement due to the state’s antiquated felony disenfranchisement scheme.
Just yesterday, the League of Women Voters of Florida and the Florida State Conference of the NAACP filed a similar lawsuit challenging the Sunshine State’s voter registration application. Specifically, the plaintiffs argue that the form’s lack of information regarding voter eligibility, especially as it pertains to citizens with past felony convictions, violates the NVRA.