Crazy Circuit

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California’s infamous Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, easily the most overruled circuit in the country, has decided that Washington State must allow all felons, including those currently in prison, to vote in all elections. The reasoning behind a panel’s 2-to-1 decision was that minorities are disproportionately represented in the state’s prison population, so preventing felons from voting is discriminatory under the federal Voting Rights Act.

“This opinion is an embarrassment,” says Trent England, Voter Integrity Project director at the Evergreen Freedom Foundation. “The issue of racial disparities in our criminal justice system is serious, but should be addressed at the front end, where crimes are committed, investigated, prosecuted, and adjudicated. Forcing a state to let all felons vote is not the answer.”


The lawsuit that led to the decision is an astonishing 14 years old. Back in 1996, Muhammad Shabazz Farrakhan was serving a three-year sentence at the Washington State Penitentiary for a series of felony-theft convictions. He sued the state contending that because nonwhites are such a large portion of the prison population, barring them from voting is illegal because it dilutes the electoral strength of minorities.

Standards regarding felons’ access to the ballot box vary greatly from state to state. Only Maine and Vermont let jailbirds vote from their prison cells. In a stinging dissent this week, Ninth Circuit Judge Margaret McKeown pointed out that three other federal circuits have determined that felon challenges to disenfranchisement laws don’t fall under the Voting Rights Act. Expect a request for the full Ninth Circuit to rehear the case. If the full circuit doesn’t overturn the panel, the next stop is the U.S. Supreme Court, which in its last term overturned the Ninth Circuit in 15 of 16 cases reviewed.

‘John Fund is a columnist for the Wall Street Journal’