Richardson v. Ramirez: A Motion to Reconsider
32 Pages Posted: 29 Sep 2008
Date Written: 2007
In Richardson v. Ramirez, 418 U.S. 24 (1974), the Supreme Court held that Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment authorized states to disenfranchise convicted felons. The decision thus leads to the anomalous result that, although Section 2 was clearly aimed at discouraging discriminatory denial of participation in the political process to African Americans, the provision nevertheless actually provides the primary justification for state statutes disproportionately denying African Americans the right to vote. This article argues that the Court got it very wrong in Richardson. Charles Sumner, one of the leaders of the Radical Republicans in the Congress that drafted the Fourteenth Amendment, argued that the amendment should pursue a political agenda of "inclusion and exclusion," by which he meant including former slaves in the larger political community while at the same time denying the franchise to whites who had participated in the Civil War on the side of the Confederacy. The Court in Richardson erred by ignoring the context in which the amendment was drafted and passed as well as specific parts of the legislative history of the amendment that demonstrate that the language recognizing state power to disenfranchise "felons" actually meant to include only those who had committed crimes of rebellion against the Union.
Keywords: Felon Disenfranchisement, Racial Discrimination, Voting Rights
JEL Classification: J71, J78, K14, N41,
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation