Eric Alterman (Altercation blog) reports an interesting situation developing regarding the USAG, upstate New York prisons, felon disenfranchisement law and the Voting Rights Act.
A simple summary of the article's main points follows:
Felons convicted in NYC get shipped to prisons upstate.
Congressional districts in which those prisons exist get to count the prison population as residents for purposes of apportioning Congressional representation.
However, in the State of New York, convicted felons are not allowed to vote.
Something like 80% of the prison population is black or latino. I would guess that about 99% of the NON-prison population is white. Oh yeah, these districts are heavily Republican (surprise!).
And a further "oh yeah" - without counting their prison populations, these districts would not be entitled to their own Congressional representation.
That's Part One.
Part Two (this is where it gets more complicated and more interesting):
"Jalil Abdul Muntaqim, né Anthony Bottom, lately of Shawangunk Correctional Facility in Wallkill, NY. Muntaqim is a convicted cop-killer who decided to challenge New York State's law that bars felons like him from voting."
Muntaqim lost in the 2nd Circuit and SCOTUS refused to hear the appeal. However, the 2nd Circuit agreed to hear the case in banc (meaning all 13 Cirguit Court judges together) on June 22.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended in 1982, states, "No . . . procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State . . . in a manner which results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color . . ." and the Muntaqim case rests in part on the claim that the NY felon disenfranchisement law represents such a procedure in effect. The 1982 version of the VRA - intended to prevent procdures anywhere in the country from producing a racially discriminatory result, intentionally or not, was passed by a Republican-controlled Senate (including Strom Thurmond) and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.
By virtue of another federal statute, enacted in 1937 (and later amended), a court must notify the USAG if the constitutionality of any federal statute (in this case, the VRA) becomes part of the question in the case - which in the Muntaqim case it does, at least peripherally - to wit: does the VRA include Muntaqim's situation and, if so, is this unconstitutionally OVERinclusive?
The 1937 federal statute, according to its author, Rep. Hatton Summers (D-TX), provides the USAG the power "to defend, solely, the constitutionality of the act" in question, and this power "is limited to one thing and that is the DEFENSE of the constitutionality of the act." However, the brief filed by USAG Gonzales in this case OPPOSES the constitutionality of the VRA in this application.
So - it's certainly not surprising that Gonzales would oppose any judicial interpretation of the VRA that would set a precendent through which felon disenfranchisement laws might be struck down since it is assumed that most of those folks would vote Democrat (being members of minority groups). But to oppose the constitutionality of even a part of the VRA - gee, where might THAT lead?