Denying Vote to People With Criminal Convictions Violates International Human Rights Law, Says NJ Institute for Social Justice in Brief to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights  

Denying Vote to People With Criminal Convictions Violates International Human Rights Law, Says NJ Institute for Social Justice in Brief to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Amici Brief Filed on Behalf of 13 Civil Rights Organizations Throughout U.S.

NEWARK – The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and the law firm of Gibbons P.C. today submitted an amici curiae brief to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights arguing that the United States is in violation of international human rights law by permitting the disenfranchisement of nearly 5.2 million United States citizens who have been convicted of felonies, a revocation of human rights which disproportionately impacts Black people and other people of color.

The brief, filed on behalf of 13 civil rights organizations across the country (listed below) in a case brought by the Rutgers Law School International Human Rights Clinic against the United States, states that while the U.S. Supreme Court has found that the right to vote is “of the most fundamental significance under our constitutional structure” and “preservative of all rights,” these principles are far from reality for the millions of people in the United States disenfranchised due to criminal convictions.

“We are proud to be filing this brief on behalf of such an esteemed group of civil and human rights advocates across the country who know that America’s historical and current laws denying people with criminal convictions the vote is racially discriminatory, counterproductive and undemocratic,” said Henal Patel, Director of the Democracy & Justice Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “In New Jersey, we succeeded in convincing legislators and the Governor of these points and restored the vote to 83,000 people on probation and parole. It’s now time to restore the vote to all people with criminal convictions here and in all states around the country.”

The brief argues that disenfranchisement laws in the United States have a disproportionate effect on Black and other Americans of color because of the well-documented racial inequities in the broken criminal justice system. Black Americans of voting age are almost four times more likely to be disenfranchised than white Americans, resulting in one in every 16 Black adults being deprived of the fundamental right to vote.

“We know that due to structural racism in law enforcement and the entire criminal justice system, Black people are more likely to be caught up in a system that treats and punishes them more severely – making them more likely to be stripped of the most sacred of democratic rights,” added Patel. “By denying the vote to people with criminal convictions, we both infect our democracy with the racial biases of a broken criminal justice system and strip human beings of their ability to participate in the democratic process, further alienating them from and discouraging their investment in their communities.”

Ronald Pierce, a policy analyst at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice who spent over 30 years in a New Jersey state prison and is quoted in the brief, says that when disenfranchised individuals cannot vote, they lack a connection to society and their community. “If you can’t fulfill your obligation to that community, why should that community look at you as an asset? You aren’t an asset to that community; you are a debit to that community,” said Pierce.

A favorable ruling in this case will provide legal and social justice advocates with meaningful support in their efforts to restore voting rights for millions of disenfranchised people across the country.

A copy of the amicus brief can be found here. A copy of the central brief in the case can be found here.

Amici represented in today’s brief are:

  • Advancement Project National Office
  • All of Us or None
  • Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR)
  • Alliance of Families for Justice (AFJ)
  • International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL)
  • JustLeadershipUSA
  • LatinoJustice PRLDEF (LJP)
  • NAACP New Jersey State Conference (NJ NAACP)
  • National Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL)
  • New Virginia Majority
  • Parole Preparation Project
  • Salvation and Social Justice (SandSJ)
  • The Sentencing Project
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