By JOSH GERSTEIN |
2/11/14 9:31 AM EST
People convicted of felonies should not forever lose their right to vote, according to Attorney General Eric Holder.
In remarks prepared for delivery at a criminal justice conference Tuesday, Holder takes aim at state laws which strip voting rights from those convicted of serious crimes.
"It is time to fundamentally rethink laws that permanently disenfranchise people who are no longer under federal or state supervision," Holder is to tell the Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights Criminal Justice Forum at Georgetown law school. "These restrictions are not only unnecessary and unjust, they are also counterproductive. By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, these laws increase the likelihood they will commit future crimes."
Holder also plans to note that felon-disenfranchisement laws ban almost one in 13 African Americans from voting and, in states like Florida, Kentucky and Virginia, as many as one in five black adults have been stripped of voting rights. The attorney general argues that these measures are relics of a bygone era.
"However well-intentioned current advocates of felony disenfranchisement may be – the reality is that these measures are, at best, profoundly outdated," Holder is to say. "At worst, these laws, with their disparate impact on minority communities, echo policies enacted during a deeply troubled period in America’s past – a time of post-Civil War discrimination. And they have their roots in centuries-old conceptions of justice that were too often based on exclusion, animus, and fear."
Holder has been stepping up his public advocacy on various issues in recent months, including reform to the criminal justice system. He's pressing to rein in the use of mandatory minimum sentences, particularly for drug crime, and is encouraging some federal inmates to apply for presidential commutations. Such actions would surely have caused a stir during the tough-on-crime 1990s, Holder's recent moves have encountered little public or political resistance. In fact, some Republicans are supporting shorter sentences for some offenders—in part due to huge prison costs federal and state governments are incurring.
Holder's speech Tuesday is also expected to include an unusual shout-out for a former Republican official now getting up up-close-and-personal experience with the criminal justice system thanks to prosecutors working for Holder: former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.
"Just last year, former Governor McDonnell adopted a policy that began to automatically restore the voting rights of former prisoners with non-violent felony convictions," the attorney general's prepared remarks say. "I applaud those who have already shown leadership in raising awareness and helping to address this issue."
McDonnell and his wife Maureen were indicted in federal court in Richmond last month on fraud and corruption charges stemming from their relationship with a wealthy Virginia businessman. The McDonnells pled not guilty to their charges and are free pending trial.