Harness v. Watson


At a Glance

Campaign Legal Center is urging the Supreme Court to review and put an end to Mississippi’s racially discriminatory disenfranchisement system. It is an extreme outlier and a relic of Jim Crow that continues to serve the purpose for which it was enacted: to prevent Black citizens from voting.

Back to top

About this Case

This case is about Mississippi’s continuing permanent disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of citizens, including an estimated 15.74% of its Black population, because of a constitutional provision that the Mississippi Supreme Court at the time admitted was drafted to “obstruct the exercise of the franchise by the negro race.”

Petitioners seek to invalidate a central remaining feature of that provision—the list of eight specific disenfranchising crimes that was indisputably adopted in 1890 because those crimes were thought to be committed more frequently by Black Mississippians.

The Fifth Circuit unfortunately upheld the provision based on an erroneous conclusion that two later amendments to the provision—which deleted one crime from the list and added two others but did not give voters the opportunity to accept or reject the 1890 law itself—somehow erased the taint of discrimination.

CLC’s Amicus Brief 

CLC has submitted a friend-of-the-court brief that explains how Mississippi’s disenfranchisement system is an extreme outlier in its felony disenfranchisement and rights restoration restrictions, even amongst the most prohibitive states.

Mississippi is the only state in the nation that continues to impose broad permanent disenfranchisement for even a single felony conviction without providing a systematic pathway to rights restoration. Consequently, Mississippi leads the nation in the percentage of its voting-eligible population that is disenfranchised, and trails only Tennessee in its percentage of disenfranchised Black citizens.

This state of affairs is unlikely to change unless the Supreme Court intervenes to remove this Jim Crow law from the books. There is currently only a single, extremely narrow avenue for amending Mississippi’s constitution and erasing Mississippi’s Jim Crow past: a legislatively referred amendment requiring the support of two-thirds of the legislature.

Even as compared to other states in the Deep South, Mississippi stands apart with respect to criminal disenfranchisement, demonstrating that Mississippi’s felony disenfranchisement scheme is an outdated relic of the Jim Crow era and a stain on our democracy.

What’s At Stake

This case raises an issue of exceptional importance—continuing intentional racial discrimination governing the freedom to vote. The Supreme Court should hear the case and put an end to Mississippi’s disenfranchisement system in order to preserve our core constitutional commitment to a democracy free from racial discrimination.

Back to top



Back to top