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Muntaqim v. Coombe et al. (Challenging felon disenfranchisement through the Voting Rights Act)

Among the many issues raised in this case is whether Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act can be constitutionally applied to New York State’s felon disenfranchisement statute. Jalil Abdul Muntaqim is a black inmate at the Ahawangunk Correctional Facility in Wallkill, New York who is currently serving a sentence of life imprisonment. On Sept. 26, 1994, Muntaqim filed a pro se complaint against several officials of the New York State Department of Correctional Services. Citing the vastly disproportionate number of African-American and Hispanic inmates in the state prison system, the complaint alleged that New York State’s felon disenfranchisement statute violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because it “results in a denial or abridgement of the right…to vote on account of race.” 42 U.S.C. § 1973(a).

On Jan. 24, 2001, the District Court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment and ruled that Muntaqim’s complaint failed to state a cognizable claim under the Voting Rights Act. Muntaqim filed a notice of appeal and was appointed counsel on June 4, 2002. On April 23, 2004, the Second Circuit held that the Voting Rights Act is not applicable to felon disenfranchisement statutes. On petition for rehearing, the Court of Appeals decided to review the case, en banc. In doing so, the Court invited various amici as well as the parties to address a series of questions including whether, as applied to this case, Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act exceeds Congress’ authority under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments upon the ground that these constitutional amendments prohibit only intentional discrimination and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act purports to prohibit laws that have a discriminatory effect.

On Jan. 28, 2005, the NYCLU and the ACLU filed an amicus brief arguing that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act can be constitutionally applied to the state felon disenfranchisement statute because the statute plainly constitutes a “voting qualification or prerequisite to voting or standard, practice, or procedure” that disenfranchises on account of race. The brief asserts that the federal courts have consistently applied the Section 2 “effects test” and that the Supreme Court has frequently affirmed those decisions implicitly upholding its constitutionality. The brief also asserts that the Supreme Court has consistently rejected constitutional challenges to other provisions of the Voting Rights Act. The brief further argues that the legislative history strongly supports the constitutionality of Section 2. On May 4, 2006, the United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, ruled that Muntaqim lacked the standing required to bring suit. Therefore, the Second Circuit vacated the opinion of the panel decision and dismissed Muntaqim’s complaint. 

U.S. Court of Appeals, 2nd Cir., Index No. 01-7260 (amicus) 

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