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Context of '1901: Alabama Modifies State Constitution to Disenfranchise Black Voters, Retain White Dominance of State Government'

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Kentucky’s State Constitution is ratified. It provides that, under Kentucky law, citizens can have their right to vote taken away upon being “convicted of bribery, perjury, forgery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” [State Constitution of Kentucky, 1792 pdf file; ProCon, 10/19/2010]

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Vermont ratifies its state Constitution. Under the Vermont Constitution, the Vermont Supreme Court can strip a citizen of the right to vote upon conviction for bribery, corruption, or other crimes. [THE CONSTITUTION OF 1793 (Vermont), 1793 pdf file; ProCon, 10/19/2010] Vermont is following the example set by Kentucky a year before (see April 19, 1792).

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

After two states, Kentucky and Vermont, include language in their constitutions allowing state officials to strip citizens of the right to vote upon conviction for various felonies and other serious crimes (see April 19, 1792 and July 9, 1793), a large number of other states follow suit.
Ohio - In 1802, Ohio leads the way, including language in its newly ratified state constitution that gives the legislature the right to “exclude from the privilege of voting” any citizen “convicted of bribery, perjury, or otherwise infamous crime.”
Louisiana - In 1812, Louisiana includes language in its newly ratified state constitution that disenfranchises citizens “convicted of bribery, perjury, forgery, or other high crimes or misdemeanors.” The Louisiana Constitution also disenfranchises anyone convicted of participating “in a duel with deadly weapons against a citizen of Louisiana.” In 1845, Louisiana includes language in its constitution to disenfranchise a citizen “under interdiction” or “under conviction of any crime punishable with hard labor.”
Indiana - In 1816, Indiana ratifies its constitution, which grants the General Assembly the right “to exclude from the privilege of electing, or being elected, any person convicted of an infamous crime.”
Mississippi - In 1817, Mississippi’s newly ratified state constitution allows for the disenfranchisement of citizens “convicted of bribery, perjury, forgery, or other high crimes or misdemeanors.”
Connecticut - Connecticut ratifies its state constitution in 1818. That instrument precludes from voting “those convicted of bribery, forgery, perjury, dueling, fraudulent bankruptcy, theft, or other offense for which an infamous punishment is inflicted.”
Alabama - Alabama ratifies its constitution in 1819, granting itself the right to disenfranchise “those who shall hereafter be convicted of bribery, perjury, forgery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Missouri - In 1820, Missouri’s newly ratified constitution gives Missouri’s General Assembly the right to disenfranchise “all persons convicted of bribery, perjury, or other infamous crime.” Citizens convicted of electoral bribery lose their right to vote for 10 years.
New York - New York ratifies its constitution in 1821. Like Indiana, it bars citizens from voting if convicted of “infamous crimes.” In 1846, New York rewrites the constitution to strip voting rights from those “who have been or may be convicted of bribery, larceny, or of any other infamous crime… and for wagering on elections.”
Virginia - Virginia ratifies its constitution in 1830. It follows New York and Indiana in barring voting by those “convicted of an infamous crime.”
Delaware - Delaware’s constitution, ratified in 1831, bars citizens from voting “as a punishment of crime,” and specifically disenfranchises citizens convicted of a felony.
Tennessee - In 1834, Tennessee’s newly ratified constitution bars those convicted of “infamous crimes” from voting.
Florida - Florida’s constitution is ratified in 1838, seven years before Florida becomes a state. Under Florida’s constitution, the General Assembly can disenfranchise citizens “who shall have been, or may thereafter be, convicted of bribery, perjury, forgery, or other high crime or misdemeanor.… [T]he General Assembly shall have power to exclude from… the right of suffrage, all persons convicted of bribery, perjury, or other infamous crimes.”
Rhode Island - Rhode Island ratifies its constitution in 1842, and bans citizens from voting once “convicted of bribery or of any crime deemed infamous at common law, until expressly restored to the right of suffrage by an act of General Assembly.”
New Jersey - Like Rhode Island, New Jersey’s 1844 constitution disenfranchises convicted felons “unless pardoned or restored by law to the right of suffrage.” The constitution specifically disenfranchises those “convicted of bribery.”
Texas - The Texas Constitution, ratified in 1845, states, “Laws shall be made to exclude… from the right of suffrage those who shall hereafter be convicted of bribery, perjury, forgery, or other high crimes.”
Iowa - Iowa’s constitution, ratified in 1846, disenfranchises citizens “convicted of any infamous crime.”
Wisconsin - Wisconsin’s newly ratified constitution, adopted in 1848, bars citizens “convicted of bribery, larceny, or any infamous crime” from voting, and specifically forbids citizens convicted of “betting on elections” from casting votes.
California - Like Florida, California adopts its constitution before it becomes a state. Its 1849 constitution strips voting rights from “those who shall hereafter be convicted of bribery, perjury, forgery, or other high crimes” as well as “those convicted of any infamous crime.” California becomes a state in 1850.
Maryland - Maryland’s constitution, ratified in 1851, bars from voting citizens “convicted of larceny or other infamous crime” unless pardoned by the governor. Anyone convicted of election bribery is “forever disqualified from voting.”
Minnesota - The 1857 ratification of Minnesota’s constitution gives that state the right to disenfranchise citizens “convicted of treason or felony until restored to civil rights.” The constitution comes into effect when Minnesota becomes a state in 1858.
Oregon - Oregon ratifies its state constitution in 1857, two years before it becomes a state. More strict than many other states, its constitution disenfranchises citizens “convicted of crimes punishable by imprisonment.” [ProCon, 10/19/2010]

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Alabama modifies its state Constitution to expand criminal disenfranchisement. The state is one of more than 20 to disenfranchise citizens convicted of various felonies and high crimes (see 1802-1857). However, Alabama’s new policies are directly focused on retaining white citizens’ dominance in state and local government. The all-white 1901 Alabama Constitution Convention hears the convention’s president state that the purpose of the convention’s new policies is “within the limits imposed by the Federal Constitution to establish white supremacy.” Since African-Americans have received the right to vote via the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, Alabama, like a number of other Southern states, is moving to restrict black citizens’ votes in a variety of ways. According to the newly adopted language of the Alabama Constitution: “The following persons shall be disqualified both from registering, and from voting, namely: All idiots and insane persons; those who shall by reason of conviction of crime be disqualified from voting at the time of the ratification of this Constitution; those who shall be convicted of treason, murder, arson, embezzlement, malfeasance in office, larceny, receiving stolen property, obtaining property or money under false pretenses, perjury, subornation of perjury, robbery, assault with intent to rob, burglary, forgery, bribery, assault and battery on the wife, bigamy, living in adultery, sodomy, incest, rape, miscegenation, crime against nature, or any crime punishable by imprisonment in the penitentiary, or of any infamous crime or crime involving moral turpitude; also, any person who shall be convicted as a vagrant or tramp, or of selling or offering to sell his vote or the vote of another, or of buying or offering to buy the vote of another, or of making or offering to make a false return in any election by the people or in any primary election to procure the nomination or election of any person to any office, or of suborning any witness or registrar to secure the registration of any person as an elector.” [ProCon, 10/19/2010]

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The California Supreme Court, ruling in the case of Otsuka v. Hite, provides a strict interpretation of the phrase “infamous crimes” in the state Constitution. That phrase has been used to strip citizens convicted of “infamous crimes” of the right to vote (see 1802-1857). The California high court rules that only those “deemed to constitute a threat to the integrity of the elective process” should be disenfranchised. [Otsuka v. Hite, 5/24/1966 pdf file; ProCon, 10/19/2010]

Entity Tags: California Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A federal appeals court rules in Green v. Board of Elections of New York that New York State’s criminal disenfranchisement statutes (see 1802-1857) are legal under the state Constitution. The ruling finds that “a man who breaks the laws he has authorized his agent to make for his own governance could fairly have been thought to have abandoned the right to participate in further administering the compact.… It can scarcely be deemed unreasonable for a state to decide that perpetrators of serious crimes shall not take part in electing the legislators who make the laws.” The New York Supreme Court will uphold the verdict. [Green v. Board of Elections of New York, 6/13/1967 pdf file; ProCon, 10/19/2010]

Entity Tags: New York Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

California amends its state Constitution to allow convicted felons to vote after they complete their sentences and subsequent parole. California voters passed Proposition 10 in early November, which restores voting rights to ex-felons. California has banned convicted felons from voting since its inception as a state in 1850 (see 1802-1857). Sociology professor Michael C. Campbell later writes: “While this measure received little fanfare in the media, its impact was substantial due to California’s dramatic increase in incarceration rates beginning in the 1970s. Over the next 30 years, this change restored voting rights for hundreds of thousands of citizens who otherwise would have been disenfranchised.” [ProCon, 10/19/2010]

Entity Tags: Michael C. Campbell

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In the case of Hunter v. Underwood, the US Supreme Court rules that states have the right to legally strip convicted criminals of the right to vote as long as no “racially discriminatory intent” is in effect, and strikes down a portion of Alabama law that is found to be discriminatory. The Court rules unanimously, 8-0 (Justice Lewis Powell does not participate in the case). The two plaintiffs—one black and one white—were barred from voting in Alabama after being charged with a misdemeanor crime, and filed a lawsuit against the state. A district court ruled against them, denying that Alabama’s Constitution disenfranchises citizens convicted of crimes in a discriminatory fashion (see 1802-1857 and 1901). The Supreme Court overturns that decision, finding that Alabama’s law violates the Fourteenth Amendment. The fact that the relevant portion of the Alabama Constitution “may have been adopted to discriminate against poor whites as well as against blacks would not render nugatory the purpose to discriminate against blacks, it being clear that the latter was a ‘but-for’ motivation.… There is no evidence that the disenfranchisement of those convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude was a motivating purpose of the 1901 Convention” (referring to the 1901 revision of the Alabama Constitution to use disenfranchisement as a tool to prevent blacks from voting—see 1901). [Hunter v. Underwood - 471 US 222 (1985), 4/16/1985; ProCon, 10/19/2010; Oyez (.org), 2012; Marcus McClellan, 5/14/2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Lewis Powell

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Massachusetts voters pass a ballot question restricting the right of jailed convicts to vote. Unlike many states (see 1802-1857), Massachusetts has not restricted the right of convicted criminals to vote. Pursuant to the ballot question, Massachusetts changes its Constitution to read, “Persons who are incarcerated in a correctional facility due to a felony conviction may not vote.” [ProCon, 10/19/2010]

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack (D-IA) announces that he will sign an order on July 4 that restores voting rights for all Iowa felons who have completed their prison sentences. Since 1846, Iowa has had what voting rights advocates call one of the most restrictive disenfranchisement laws in the nation (see 1802-1857). Felons should “re-engage” with society, Vilsack says, and restoring their right to vote will help in that process. Some 80,000 Iowans will be affected by the order. Voting rights advocates say that since Iowa and Nebraska (see March 2005) have moved to reinstate voting rights by convicted felons, other states should make similar efforts. Some 4.7 million Americans are ineligible to vote because of criminal convictions, including a half-million war veterans. 1.4 million of these ineligible voters are African-American males. Iowa was one of five states, including Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia, that deny the vote to any citizen convicted of a felony or an aggravated misdemeanor. Previously, Iowa required convicted felons who wanted their right to vote reinstated to petition the governor’s office, which would then forward the application to the State Division of Criminal Investigation, which would in turn send the application to the parole board for a recommendation. The process could take up to six months to complete. About 600 ex-felons petitioned for restoration in 2004. After he signs the order, Vilsack says, about 600 felons will be restored to the voting rolls each month. The Iowa Department of Corrections must submit monthly lists of eligible ex-felons to Vilsack’s office. While blacks make up only 2 percent of Iowa’s population, 19 percent of those denied the vote are black, prompting many to say that the law is discriminatory. Catherine Weiss of the Brennan Center for Justice says, “This is a huge victory for voting rights and for civil rights.” Iowa was under tremendous pressure to overturn its ban after Nebraska ended its ban. Weiss says that Nebraska and Iowa were the only two states outside the former Confederate South to maintain such restrictive bans. Ryan King of the Sentencing Project, an organization working to reinstate the right to vote for felons across the nation, says: “The governor’s choice of doing this on July 4 is very symbolic. It’s a celebration of democracy.” Debra Breuklander, a former felon who joins Vilsack at the press conference, says the order goes beyond politics. Breuklander was convicted of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and was released from prison in June 2003. She now works as a nurse at a drug treatment center. “I have children that are still in school; I have a grandson that will be going to school,” she says. “Not even to be able to have a say-so in what goes on in the schools was driving me crazy.… If nobody hires you and you don’t feel like you’re a part of anything, all you will do is feel like you may as well go back to what you know, which is the drugs.” [New York Times, 6/18/2005; American Civil Liberties Union, 2008; ProCon, 10/19/2010]

Entity Tags: Ryan King, Catherine Weiss, Tom Vilsack, Debra Breuklander

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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