Yup. Holder Goes There. (About Damn Time Too)

Here’s Eric Holder on the systematic elimination of political rights from millions of Americans:

“It is unwise, it is unjust, and it is not in keeping with our democratic values.” [Via TPM]

Vincent_Willem_van_Gogh_037

And just who might be disproportionately represented among those barred from giving their consent to their governing?

African-Americans represent more than a third of the estimated 5.8 million people who are prohibited from voting, according to the Sentencing Project, a research group that favors more liberal sentencing policies. And in Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia, more than one in five African-Americans has lost the right to vote. [link in the original]

And the last question in this mockery of a catechism, what lies behind the desperate push to of keep ex-cons from resuming full participation in our polity? The question answers itself:

Studies show that felons who have been denied the right to vote are far more likely to vote for Democrats than Republicans. In 2002, scholars at the University of Minnesota and Northwestern University concluded that the 2000 presidential election “would almost certainly have been reversed” had felons been allowed to vote. [link in the original]

In Florida, the state that tipped that election, 10 percent of the population is ineligible to vote because of the ban on felons at the polls, Mr. Holder said.

Denying those who’ve completed the sentences the law requires for their acts the right to vote is nothing new.  It’s just the latest in a guerrilla campaign running more than a century now, one aimed at reversing the results of the shooting war that only nominally ended in 1865.  Bad enough that African Americans could no longer be bought and sold, but heaven forfend that they actually exercise the essential rights of any citizen.  Or, as Holder put it in terms suited to the meanest understanding:

“Although well over a century has passed since post-Reconstruction states used these measures to strip African-Americans of their most fundamental rights, the impact of felony disenfranchisement on modern communities of color remains both disproportionate and unacceptable” he said….

The sad truth is that Holder and the Department of Justice can’t do much here.  States retain the right to set election law, and, as the Times noted,

The question of how people vote is contentious, particularly since the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act last year. That decision allowed states to pass voting laws that would otherwise have needed federal approval.

But still, good on him for getting this out there, and in the terms he used.  Racism isn’t a residue of times gone by, eroding with each passing year.  It’s not a state of mind, something that is or isn’t in someone’s heart.  It inheres in the actual decisions made, consequences sought and embraced, that result in harm done to specific individuals and groups.  It lies at the heart of the choices being made right now, overwhelming by one political party, the GOP, as it attempts to return to the pinnacle of power.

Holder’s making that clear in surprisingly  (to me) uncompromising language.  Good.  This is how both Overton Windows and, over waaaaay too much time, actual policy shifts.

Image: Vincent van Gogh, Prisoners Exercising, 1890. (Yeah. I’ve used this one before. You gotta problem with that?)

54 replies
  1. 1
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    It’s about fucking time Holder went there.

    He’s absolutely correct.

    “Post-racial America” is a fucking lie of the vermin of the Village.

    Damn them all. There is no Hell hot enough to adequately punish these vile creatures.

  2. 2
    NotMax says:

    But, but – Willie Horton!

    Booga booga.

    /right wing reaction coming soon

  3. 3
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    The entire concept of the “felony”, meaning a crime (with a limited sentence) that carries a lifetime punishment, is literally medieval. It is an inheritance from Britain that got tossed aside by the mother country along with other medieval shit in the years after the American colonists went their own way.

    Speaking of Britain, the UK government is trying to resist the EU directive that incarcerated prisoners should have the right to vote. Now that would fuck up the American practice of locating prisons in places where it pushes up the local (white, conservative) population without increasing the voter rolls.

  4. 4
    burnspbesq says:

    In principle, Holder is obviously correct.

    I’ll get more excited when I see some follow-through, I.e., a stream of VRA Section 2 complaints against states that refuse to restore convicted felons’ voting rights.

    Mookie Eric, always do the right thing.”

  5. 5
    Big R says:

    @NotMax: I guess my question would be, why is it bad that Willie Horton could vote? I mean, maybe he should have never been released (but that’s a different question), and of course whether a currently-incarcerated felon should vote is yet another question. But if someone has been released (whether in hindsight that’s a good idea), then why shouldn’t they be afforded their civil rights?

    The more I watch the “justice” system, the more convinced I become that the whole goal is to create a permanent underclass that is unemployable except in shadow industries and unable to generate any rise in their own standard of living except what the Masters give them. By and large, this goal is motivated by race – but the Masters aren’t scared to put people who look like them into the underclass, if it means that the desired serfs are more likely to be impoverished.

  6. 6
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    @Big R:

    the more convinced I become that the whole goal is to create a permanent underclass that is unemployable except in shadow industries and unable to generate any rise in their own standard of living except what the Masters give them.

    Shadow industries such as restaurant kitchens, where they can go swivel for health insurance and can get by on minimum wage while cooking for their betters.

  7. 7
    Big R says:

    @pseudonymous in nc: Man, if there were to be a law that required currently-incarcerated felons to be able to vote, I would go to the prison and register EVERY SINGLE FRICKIN FRACKIN ONE; then go back and take EVERY SINGLE FRICKIN FRACKIN ONE an absentee ballot. “No, I don’t care who you vote for. Yes, you can write in Adolf Hitler. Yes, you can write in Mumia. Whatever you want; I will carry it to be counted.”

  8. 8
    Big R says:

    @pseudonymous in nc: How often do you see a restaurant kitchen? Seems like a bit of a shadow industry to me. But I get what you’re saying.

  9. 9
    Gerd Jemasz says:

    Every time Holder speaks and doesn’t mention minorities imprisoned for cannabis by his DEA, the Regime wins.

  10. 10
    Yatsuno says:

    Another chapter in Why Democrats Matter. I expect much bitching about this, but the Repubs up here are pretty toothless.

    (Also, linky button no working. Could jut be me tho.)

  11. 11
    AdamK says:

    We need a voting rights amendment.

  12. 12
    Punchy says:

    Studies show that felons who have been denied the right to vote are far more likely to vote for Democrats than Republicans

    IOW, Democrats commit crimes far more often than Republicans.

    /Right wing interpretation

  13. 13
    Gene108 says:

    The purpose of the criminal justice system shifted, in the 1980’s, from any attempt at rehabilitation to vengeance against people who broke the law.

    As crime rates do not escalate much anymore, I hope we can revisit the whole rehabilitation versus punishment angle in the near future.

  14. 14
    C.V. Danes says:

    The right to vote is not just a fundamental civil right, it is a fundamental human right. But, then, so is the right to not be tortured, so I’m not holding my breath.

  15. 15
    pseudonymous in nc says:

    @Big R:

    How often do you see a restaurant kitchen? Seems like a bit of a shadow industry to me.

    Yeah, that was my point. Kitchens are one of the few places that don’t exclude ex-cons by default. I doubt that many wingnuts spend too much time thinking about the civil rights of the people cooking their meals when they’re dining out, though they will be thinking about ways to stiff the server on the tip.

  16. 16
    C.V. Danes says:

    @Gene108:

    As crime rates do not escalate much anymore, I hope we can revisit the whole rehabilitation versus punishment angle in the near future.

    The incarceration industrial complex is big money, so probably not going to happen any time soon.

  17. 17
    Gene108 says:

    @AdamK:

    Or a more narrow interpretation of the four voting rights amendments in the Constitution, so a law can be considered to violate the fifteenth amendment if it can have an adverse impact on minority voter participation.

    As opposed to the traditional standard of interpreting anything that does not explicitly state, “niggers can’t vote” as conforming to the Constitution.

  18. 18
    Chris says:

    Studies show that felons who have been denied the right to vote are far more likely to vote for Democrats than Republicans. In 2002, scholars at the University of Minnesota and Northwestern University concluded that the 2000 presidential election “would almost certainly have been reversed” had felons been allowed to vote. [link in the original]

    See, that right there is the disconnect. You and I see it as evidence of politically-motivated tampering with people’s constitutional rights. But to them, it’s simply proof that the Democrats are using the votes of felons to put them over the top (okay, technically they served their time, but once a criminal, always a criminal) and therefore the party must be stopped, otherwise the wrong people will get in power.

    Similarly, to them the number of black people in prison doesn’t prove that there’s anything wrong with the justice system. It just proves that black people are more prone to crime.

  19. 19
    Citizen_X says:

    @Gene108:

    the four voting rights amendments in the Constitution

    Funny how, altogether, they add up to be less important than the second amendment. Wonder why that is?

  20. 20
    Chris says:

    @Big R:

    The more I watch the “justice” system, the more convinced I become that the whole goal is to create a permanent underclass that is unemployable except in shadow industries and unable to generate any rise in their own standard of living except what the Masters give them. By and large, this goal is motivated by race – but the Masters aren’t scared to put people who look like them into the underclass, if it means that the desired serfs are more likely to be impoverished.

    Yep. The more I read about stuff like this, the more I understand the argument that segregation never really ended and that the whole “post-racial society” bullshit is just that, bullshit. Just like a hundred years earlier with the end of slavery, the end of segregation was quickly followed by a flurry of other, a-little-less-blatant policies that tended towards the same effect of disenfranchising the largest chunk of black (and other nonwhite) voters. And just like a hundred years ago, one percenters reaped the benefits, and white racists acquiesced to it because hey, at least these people are getting it worse.

  21. 21
    Cassidy says:

    @Gerd Jemasz: I know! Never enough and just words! poundsign amirite

  22. 22
    Suffern ACE says:

    @C.V. Danes: Nope. We’ve privatized the prison system and we have more than a few politicans who get in on that as passive investors. We’re now in the process of privatizing probation and in some instances the ex-felon needs to pay for parole services or face going back to prison. http://www.theatlantic.com/nat.....ht/283589/
    There is money to be ground out of the poor and we’re getting very good at doing that. Kay writes about the absurdity of the juvenile justice system under zero tolerance – basically once the minor is trapped in the court system, he or she does not get out until well into adulthood. We are doing the same to adults. In the future I expect that if you came from a middle class background and committ a crime, you will do the time and pay your way out. But if you weren’t from that background, you won’t have much hope. We’re back to Jean Valjean criminal justice practice.

  23. 23
    jl says:

    Good post. I have two quibbles. Why is the term ‘political rights’ used when ‘civil rights’ seems more appropriate?

    And, second, I understand that this is a miserable lefty (though also mommies gone wild, and family) blog. So, it does make sense that the discussion is framed in terms of the horrible contemporary reactionary GOP trampling on people’s civil rights for narrow partisan advantage. And that is the truth.

    But there are other angles that are just as true, and may be even more helpful to emphasize. For example, restoring voting rights to most felons, and simplifying the process of restoration, will probably help with their rehabilitation and build safer communities. Some good links with the arguments are at the following site.

    Project Vote, Felon voting rights
    http://projectvote.org/felon-voting.html

  24. 24
    Gene108 says:

    @Chris:

    In all honesty, from discussing the issue of the 2000 Florida voter purge with right-wingers, during Bush, Jr’s first term I have concluded they do not care who gets hurt, as long as their guy wins; they so contemptuous of the Left that they would rather see other Americans Lise their rights, if that insured a libreral would never win,

  25. 25
    Gene108 says:

    @Chris:

    In all honesty, from discussing the issue of the 2000 Florida voter purge with right-wingers, during Bush, Jr’s first term I have concluded they do not care who gets hurt, as long as their guy wins; they so contemptuous of the Left that they would rather see other Americans Lise their rights, if that insured a libreral would never win,

  26. 26
    replicnt6 says:

    @Punchy:

    IOW, Democrats commit crimes far more often than Republicans.

    Oh, but that’s not all. I got out of the boat and read the comments on the article. I do this when I want to restore my disdain for humanity.

    Alan Livermore, CA 2 hours ago
    Let’s see, according to the article, more than 20 percent of the African Americans are felons, and a third of the felons are African Americans. Sounds like the African Americans in this country cause an awful lot of the problems. Is Mr. Holder trying to make us sympathetic to them? Other than the Democrats trying to buy votes, why are these people entitled to vote? Infractions and misdemeanors don’t cost you your voting privilege, only felonies, the most serious criminal offenses. We also don’t allow felons to possess guns.

  27. 27
    Chris says:

    @Gene108:

    Absolutely. But it’s all For The Greater Good (in their heads). They’re saving America. It’s why you hear them speak so admiringly about Pinochet, Pahlavi, Franco, et al: the concept of Doing What Must Be Done to save the Nation’s Soul is something they understand perfectly. Something as grubby and mundane as the democratic process certainly can’t be allowed to interfere with the bigger picture.

    (Their way of doing it is less crude than having a general in sunglasses drive his tanks through the capital, dissolve the legislature and proclaim a state of emergency… but honestly, not by that much).

  28. 28
    Chris says:

    @replicnt6:

    Called it.

  29. 29
    Kay says:

    @Suffern ACE:

    I was feeling hopeless about it, because it’s so difficult to explain to people who are outside it. The original charge leads to supervision and fines which leads to a violation of the terms of the supervision and on and on and on. This goes on for years.

    The Ohio ACLU did a genius thing, where they filed a lawsuit where they named specific Ohio courts that were functioning as a pipeline to debtor’s jails. The municipal court across the street was named. This served to completely embarrass and humiliate those courts AND the Ohio Supreme Court, so we got this.

    Ohio’s highest court took steps to make sure no one sentenced in state cases gets put behind bars simply because they are too poor.
    The state’s supreme court announced it would hand out “bench cards” to all the state’s judges with different alternatives to jail for convicts unable to pay fines, including payment plans or forfeiting a driver’s license, according to a press release from the American Civil Liberties Union.
    “Debtors’ prison are not only unconstitutional, they are a cruel albatross that traps low-income people in a never-ending cycle of poverty, debt, and incarceration,” ACLU of Ohio spokesperson, Mike Brickner said in the release. “Those who have been jailed for being poor have lost jobs, seen serious declines in their health, and faced family crises.”
    Laws already on the books make it illegal to jail defendants just because they’re too poor to pay court-imposed financial penalties. But, the ACLU of Ohio said it found “clear evidence that courts across the state have been routinely jailing people without regard to whether they could afford to pay their fines.”

    The key was listing the courts, IMO. Nothing would have happened if they hadn’t named and shamed individual judges.

  30. 30
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Gene108:

    from any attempt at rehabilitation to vengeance against people who broke the law

    Well, for some people who break the law. You can rob banks blind if you’re on their board of directors, or are an executive, especially if you’re white. See Bush, Neil. You can obstruct justice and shit on the Constitution if you’re a Republican…but if you’re a Democrat, don’t you dare get a blow job from an intern..

  31. 31
    Neutron Flux says:

    Seems appropriate. Wake UP

  32. 32
    Gene108 says:

    @Chris:

    Which is why they applaud Ollie North for breaking the law, and approved of Bush & Co’s abuses of Executive power, because all of it was to defend America from liberalism.

  33. 33
    C.V. Danes says:

    @Suffern ACE:

    But if you weren’t from that background, you won’t have much hope. We’re back to Jean Valjean criminal justice practice.

    Indeed. The whole purpose of the system now is to grind the poor until they’re too tired to revolt, and keep what is left of the middle class too scared to rally them.

  34. 34
    rikyrah says:

    @Kay:

    Good for you, Kay.!!!

  35. 35
    Gex says:

    What’s funny is that at least since the 90s the right has pushed for felons to be able to get their gun rights restored. Dave Durenburger balked at some NRA legislation he had been hawking when he realized that, but they threatened to withhold their support so he pushed it anyways. So here in MN we’ve had domestic abusers and rapists have their gun rights restored. And if felons have a path to getting guns back, they sure as hell should have a path to getting their vote back. And the right needs to be reminded that they actually don’t mind restoring the rights of felons.

  36. 36
    balconesfault says:

    In 2002, scholars at the University of Minnesota and Northwestern University concluded that the 2000 presidential election “would almost certainly have been reversed” had felons been allowed to vote.

    There’s plenty of reason to suspect that the 2000 Presidential election would have been reversed had non-felons not been purged from Florida’s voter roll when Jeb Bush’s contractor was busy presuming anyone with a name anything like someone who was a felon should be made to prove they were not the felon.

  37. 37
    NonyNony says:

    @Gex:

    And if felons have a path to getting guns back, they sure as hell should have a path to getting their vote back.

    What? Are you saying that some made-up “right to vote” is just as important as your Second Amendment Right To Bear Arms?

    That’s crazy-talk. If the Founding Fathers had wanted people to have a “right to vote” they would have put it in the Second Amendment where all of the rights that a citizen should expect to receive are enumerated in sum and total. Everything else is reserved to the states, as we all know.

    (I do seriously think that if some industry got paid a dollar for every vote cast – regardless of who the vote was cast for – the right to vote would be sacrosanct, and probably the voting age would be reduced down to 13 or so as well.)

  38. 38
    Kay says:

    @rikyrah:

    Thanks! I didn’t do it, though. The Ohio ACLU did :)

    It’s ridiculous. They’re making payments to these courts for years. I’m shocked at how long they’re in this system, and these are juvenile offenses or misdemeanors.

    “Are you still going to Thinking For A Change? Good God, how old are you now?”

    The truth is they’re using the defendants to fund the punishment programs. It’s the most fucked-up thing I’ve ever seen. It’s lost all connection to the original charge. They’re state collection agencies, and they have a really big hammer! They can put the debtors in jail!

    It all goes back to refusal to fund government. They want Big Government and Tough On Crime, they just don’t want to pay for it, so they shift costs.

  39. 39
    NonyNony says:

    @Kay:

    Good on the ACLU for naming names and getting some of the idiocy clawed back, but this:

    including payment plans or forfeiting a driver’s license

    How the hell in most of this state can you possibly expect anyone to be able to pay you back for anything if they can’t get to work? It isn’t like any part of the state has a reasonable mass transit system that folks who can’t drive can just use the train system – in most of this freaking state if you don’t have access to a car you are fucked to be able to work any job, let alone the unreasonably shitty hour jobs with “just in time scheduling” that most of the folks who are going to fall into this trap are stuck with.

    I swear – people are freaking stupid. “Oh we know you can’t pay the fine because you don’t have any money. So we’ll just take away your only form of transportation that could possibly let you get a job to earn some money to pay the fines. That’ll work!” Jeebus.

  40. 40
    jl says:

    General comment on race/ethnicity and crime. The recent racist line that African-Americans commit all the crimes seems to have been kindled by a Fox news misinformation campaign from last week.

    I did a search to find out where the Fox numbers came from, and they seem to all come from one Wikipedia article. Funny thing was that the same article, right below, explained that the strongest association was between poverty, geopraphy and crime, not race/’ethnicity and crime. And African-Americans tend to be poorer than average and more likely to live in the South than average.

    So, maybe that is how Fox News does its research.

    That particular article on homicide isn’t linked in to the other Wikipedia articles on crime, and I can’t find it now. Anyone else know the Wiki article I am talking about?

  41. 41
    Liberty60 says:

    It’s not a state of mind, something that is or isn’t in someone’s heart. It inheres in the actual decisions made, consequences sought and embraced, that result in harm done to specific individuals and groups.

    This needs to be repeated, a thousand times.
    When we point out structural racism, we always hear wailing of “but I’m not racist! I like black folks!”

    It doesn’t matter if we like hipitty hop music or can play blues like Lee Atwater. What we do, our actions, are either racist or not.

  42. 42
    balconesfault says:

    So, maybe that is how Fox News does its research.

    Fox News does “research” by looking for some source which validates a preconceived or politically expedient thesis, and elevating the source to unimpeachability.

  43. 43
    Citizen_X says:

    @Chris:

    It’s why you hear them speak so admiringly about Pinochet, Pahlavi, Franco, et al: the concept of Doing What Must Be Done to save the Nation’s Soul is something they understand perfectly.

    I believe that political philosophy is spelled f-a-s-c-i-s-m.

    Their way of doing it is less crude than having a general in sunglasses drive his tanks through the capital, dissolve the legislature and proclaim a state of emergency

    Oh, if Steps Must Be Taken, they would be more than willing to make it happen. Unfortunately, the rank-and-file troops, at least, would never go along with it.

  44. 44
    low-tech cyclist says:

    The sad truth is that Holder and the Department of Justice can’t do much here. States retain the right to set election law…

    Only to the extent that Congress allows. The Constitution, Article I, Section 4:

    The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.

    So there’s no reason why Congress can’t pass a law saying felons not currently incarcerated can’t be prevented from voting on the basis of their criminal past.

    Or a law saying that any voter fraud laws passed by states or localities may not keep more legal voters than illegitimate voters from voting.

    First we’d have to have a Congress controlled by Democrats, though.

    But the very next moment we do, the Dems had better start passing reforms like this so that the GOP can’t continue to win elections by gaming the system.

  45. 45
    Trollhattan says:

    @NonyNony:

    It’s sure a good thing the BushII administration worked so tirelessly to dial back bankruptcy protection for individuals. Whew, that was close!

    Debtors prisons. In the 21st century. In ‘Murca. Sweet leaping Ronnie Reagan on a Roomba.

  46. 46
    Kay says:

    @NonyNony:

    How the hell in most of this state can you possibly expect anyone to be able to pay you back for anything if they can’t get to work? It isn’t like any part of the state has a reasonable mass transit system that folks who can’t drive can just use the train system

    They won’t do it in rural areas. They figured out that people can’t work when they pull their driver’s license :)

    I wouldn’t focus on the bench card. It’s not that important. What happened was they were named and shamed, and that will leave a mark. It matters to them that they were on the “bad courts and judges” list. The Ohio Supreme Court hopped right to it, because it’s a vastly different thing to say “the criminal justice system” than it is to say “Judge Narth in so and so county” or “Sunnyvale municipal court” are BAD ACTORS.
    You know how people tell you to use an individual employee’s name when you’re calling to complain about a business or service? That works.

  47. 47
    TooManyJens says:

    In 2002, scholars at the University of Minnesota and Northwestern University concluded that the 2000 presidential election “would almost certainly have been reversed” had felons been allowed to vote.

    Instead, we allowed felons to take office.

    Lawn Order!

  48. 48
    danielx says:

    The more I watch the “justice” system, the more convinced I become that the whole goal is to create a permanent underclass that is unemployable except in shadow industries and unable to generate any rise in their own standard of living except what the Masters give them.

    All together now…1..2..3…

    It’s not a bug, it’s a feature!

  49. 49
    Splitting Image says:

    If they really wanted to be consistent, they would be saying that women who have had abortions should not be able to vote. Because abortion is murder.

    And if they really wanted to be consistent, they would be saying that women who use contraception should not be able to vote. Because contraceptives are abortifacents.

    Maybe they just don’t want to get ahead of themselves. First Roe vs. Wade, then the 19th amendment.

  50. 50
    gorram says:

    @Chris: An immunity to self (or, more broadly, inward) criticism.

  51. 51

    related good news: FCC stops price-gouging of inmates for telephone calls

    http://www.fcc.gov/document/fc.....ling-rates

    naturally the telco industry will fight back:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/.....94556.html

  52. 52
    mclaren says:

    The grotesque hypocrisy of Eric Holder remains disgusting beyond the ability of words in the English language to describe.

    Eric Holder, by the way, is the guy who not long ago (2011) was pushing for much harsher sentences for marijuana possession in order to “hurt the Mexican cartels.”

    As I warned John Cole back in 2009, Obama always fakes left and moves right. His toady Holder is now doing the same thing. Watch for it: Holder’s DOJ will increase marijuana prosecutions in the coming months and years. Whenever Holder or Obama promise to make some reform, it’s all just empty talk…and the results are always worse policies, harsher sentences, more extreme felonization.

    Hear it now, believe it later when it happens.

  53. 53
    Gvg says:

    I’m not actually for voting in prisons at this time with the system we have. it brings up the issue of coercion. Guards, gangs, and biggest bullies would probably control the vote. Now maybe you can think of a way to beat that. I know not trying is giving in when we shouldn’t but I’d like to hear ideas.

  54. 54
    low-tech cyclist says:

    @Gvg:

    Now maybe you can think of a way to beat that.

    Secret ballot?

    It would require some enforcement to ensure that nobody was looking over the shoulder of inmates as they voted, but it would hardly be unmanageable.

    And entirely rule out absentee ballots by prisoners since the whole idea of incarcerated persons voting absentee is pretty absurd. They aren’t going to be anywhere besides their usual residence on Election Day.

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