Eric Holder, President Obama’s mouthpiece for civil rights in the criminal justice system, has become the first attorney general to call for a repeal of state laws that prohibit convicted felons from voting, saying such laws are “too unjust to tolerate.”
During a speech Tuesday at Georgetown University Law Center, Holder urged lawmakers across the country to “pass clear and consistent reforms to restore the voting rights of all who have served their terms in prison or jail, completed their parole or probation and paid their fine,” saying the American people “overwhelming oppose felony disenfranchisement.”
And, according to the New York Times, the Justice Department confirmed Holder was the first attorney general to call for a repeal of the current felon-voting ban laws.
Holder said state laws that bar felons from voting are “not only unnecessary and unjust, they are also counterproductive” because they perpetuate the “stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals,” increasing the likelihood that they will commit future crimes.
Such “outdated” laws have a “disparate impact on minority communities,” he said, suggesting that this is, at heart, a civil rights issue.
Of the 5.8 million Americans who cannot vote because of current or previous felony convictions, 2.2 million are black, Holder noted.
“And although well over a century has passed since post-Reconstruction states used these measures to strip African Americans of their most fundamental rights, the impact of felony disenfranchisement on modern communities of color remains both disproportionate and unacceptable.”
Holder specifically singled out states like Florida and Iowa who ban felons from voting for life “unless they receive clemency from the governor,” the Times reported.
In swing-state Florida, “10 percent of the population is ineligible to vote because of the ban on felons at the polls,” Holder said, according to the article.
However, it appears Holder’s words didn’t sway either state:
“Eric Holder’s speech from Washington, D.C., has no effect on Florida’s Constitution, which prescribes that individuals who commit felonies forfeit their right to vote,” said Frank Collins, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican.
“For those who are truly remorseful for how they have wrecked families and want to earn back their right to vote, Florida’s Constitution also provides a process to have their rights restored,” said Mr. Collins, the governor’s spokesman.
In Iowa, felons can apply to the governor to restore their voting rights if they can prove they have paid their fines and court costs.
“Iowa has a good and fair policy on restoration of rights for convicted felons,” said Jimmy Centers, a spokesman for Gov. Terry E. Branstad, a Republican. “We don’t have any plans to change the process.”
Watch Holder’s remarks here via CNS News:
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