Federal Decision: WA Prison Inmates Should Get Vote

Al-Kareem Shadeed.  Photo by Inye Wokoma, used with permission.  ColorsNW Magazine
 Major federal court decision yesterday.

The 9th Circuit Federal court has found in Farrakhan v Gregoire that Washington's high rate of minority imprisonment cannot be explained in a race neutral way and that the right to vote must be restored to people currently in prison. 3-Striker Al-Kareem Shadeed, pictured here, is one of the plaintiffs in this case.

According to a December, 2006 Amici Curiae (friend of the court) briefing in this case, nearly one-quarter of otherwise qualified black male voters, and almost 17% of the entire adult black population of Washington state were prohibited from voting because of prior felonies.

Last session's House Bill 1517 restored the right to vote to an estimated 167,000 people in the state who were barred due to Legal Financial Obligations owed on prior felonies. This law does not address the voting rights of people who are currently incarcerated.

Washington state is less than 4% Black. The state prison population as a whole is 19.3% Black. Our 3-Strikes population is 40% Black. Other minority groups are also over-represented. (1, 2)

The Brennan Center has more information and links to the decision and other documents:

"On Jan. 5, 2010, the Ninth Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, reversed the District Court's decision on remand, claiming that Washington's constitutional provision regarding felony disenfranchisement is in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. the Ninth Circuit has ruled that  Associated Press reports.

"The two appellate judges ruled that disparities in the state's justice system "cannot be explained in race-neutral ways."

  1. Persistent Offenders, Through June 2008, State of Washington, Sentencing Guidelines Commission.
  2. Offender Fact Card, Fiscal Year 2009, Washington Department of Corrections



  1. In September, 2010, Al Kareem Shadeed was granted conditional release from his 3-Strikes sentence of Life Without Parole after Governor Gregoire approved an earlier unanimous recommendation of Washington's Clemency and Pardons Board. Read more about his case here.

  3. The 9th Circuit has essentially reversed its own decision in Farrakhan v. Gregoire. From Disregarding the Results: Examining the Ninth Circuit’s Heightened Section 2 'Intentional Discrimination' Standard in Farrakhan v. Gregoire. Ryan V. Haygood, May 2011, Columbia Law Review.

    "(I)n October 2010, the Ninth Circuit initiated its own rehearing en banc. It reversed its earlier rulings and announced a new standard imposing a nearly insurmountable 'intentional discrimination' threshold for section 2 felon disfranchisement litigation.

    "This new standard, which was used to dispose of the Farrakhan plaintiffs' claims, is inconsistent with the text, precedent, and legislative history of the Voting Rights Act. Future plaintiffs have to show 'at least':

    1. that Washington's 'criminal justice system was infected by intentional discrimination,' or
    2. that the state's 'felon disfranchisement law was enacted with such intent.'"


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this decision will be appealed? From this morning's news report, it was unclear what McKenna might do.

by DWE on Wed Jan 06, 2010 at 07:30:45 PM PST

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Noemie, thank you so much for your work on this issue.

Wash. to appeal felon vote ruling to Supreme Court

The Associated Press
OLYMPIA, Wash. --

Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna and Republican Secretary of State Sam Reed say they will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn an appellate court's decision that would give Washington state felons in prison and on community supervision the right to vote.

McKenna and Reed announced their decision Wednesday. The appeal has to be filed with the court by April, and the state will seek a stay on felony inmates' ability to vote until the case is resolved.

Tuesday's 2-1 ruling by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the 2000 ruling of a district judge in Spokane. The appeals court says Washington state's felon disenfranchisement law violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

(Italics mine.)

by zappini on Thu Jan 07, 2010 at 11:44:30 AM PST

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Sam Reed opposes felony voting because it'd because more work. (Having seen how we process mail ballots, I can't imagine anything more complicated.)

Nina Shapiro does yeoman's work:

While Secretary of State Sam Reed Pleads for Time to Handle Hassles of Felon Voting, Vermont and Maine Say It's a Cinch [SeattleWeekly 01/07/2010]

King County public defender Lisa Daugaard shares her analysis: courts didn't define discrimination, this ruling probably won't lead to reform of the criminal justice system.

Don't Expect Court Ruling on Felon Voting--and Discrimination--to Shake Up the Justice System [SeattleWeekly 01/06/2010]

Federal Court Rules That Washington Inmates Should Be Allowed to Vote--And, By the Way, That the Entire Justice System is Racist [SeattleWeekly 01/05/2010]

by zappini on Mon Jan 11, 2010 at 09:45:00 AM PST

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State, not courts, should decide felon-voting rights

They note the current reform which eases restoring voting rights for ex-felons.

But they don't think felons in prison should be permitted to vote, per our state's constitution.

Then they make the unfortunate "state's rights" argument. Not smart. Given that "state's rights" was the battle cry and rationalization used by racists to disenfranchise minorities, it's terribly insensitive.

by zappini on Mon Jan 11, 2010 at 09:56:34 AM PST

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