By JASON L. RILEY
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
“It is time to fundamentally rethink laws that permanently disenfranchise people who are no longer under federal or state supervision,” said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in a speech Tuesday that urged states to restore voting rights to former prisoners. “These laws deserve to be not only reconsidered but repealed,” he added, citing the “the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals.”
Only four states—Iowa, Kentucky, Florida and Virginia—impose lifetime voting bans on people with convictions, and the Obama administration has no authority to enact the changes that Mr. Holder is advocating. So what is the point of this exercise? For starters, it’s an election year, and felons trend heavily Democratic, according to polls. But more fundamentally, the issue feeds two of liberalism’s favorite narratives: The criminal justice system is racist, and Republicans want to disenfranchise blacks.
“[Mr. Holder’s] appeal is part of a broader effort underway by the Justice Department to overhaul the criminal justice system, which U.S. officials say often treats minority groups unfairly,” reported the Washington Post. The Obama Justice Department has also sued states to block voter I.D. laws and has urged Congress to relax mandatory-minimum sentences for convicted drug offenders. Sadly, some Republicans—including Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah—are supporting Mr. Holder’s misguided efforts to “help” blacks by going easier on criminals. I know the GOP wants more black voters, but this is the wrong kind of outreach.
Blacks are disproportionately affected by felon disenfranchisement laws because a disproportionate number of blacks are felons. The problem is black criminality, not racist laws. White felons face the same voting restrictions, which date not to America’s post-Civil War period, as Mr. Holder suggested in his remarks, but to medieval Europe by way of ancient Greece and Rome. Indeed, many of the voter-disenfranchisement laws in this country were passed long before blacks could even vote. “From 1776 to 1821, eleven states adopted constitutions that disenfranchised felons or permitted their statutory disenfranchisement,” explained George Brooks in a Fordham Urban Law Journal article. “That African-Americans are disproportionately disenfranchised is a matter of grave concern, but it is a side effect of high crime rates. It flows from their status as felons, not from their race.”
The Obama administration would rather focus on white racism instead of black behavior. But before Republicans follow along, they might consider how these liberal policies impact the law-abiding members of the black community so often ignored by the left. Eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for drug dealers means that these thugs return to the ghetto sooner rather than later to raise hell. Similarly, re-enfranchising black felons gives people who broke the law the ability to dilute the votes of black people who followed it—the very same law-abiding blacks who in the vastly majority of cases were the felons’ victims.