Claudia Leonor


In his dissent of New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, Justice Louis Brandeis referred to the constituent states of the country as “laboratories for democracy.” He noted that, as sovereign entities within the United States, states are empowered to “try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” In postbellum American society, states have grappled with Reconstruction and the concomitant dismantlement of a caste system hinging on racism. In convening constitutional assemblies, the states experimented with racism and succeeded. In Southern jurisdictions, racial animus enabled the creation of constitutional frameworks and legislation that would have a disabling impact on the civil rights of convicted felons for generations to come. This article begins with an overview of the political marginalization of criminal felony offenders and how it disempowers Black communities, and it proceeds to examine the inconsistent political standing of convicted criminal felons in three American jurisdictions: Vermont, Texas, and Virginia. Because of the vastly differential outcomes for convicted felons across these jurisdictions, this article concludes with a proposal for federal legislation that enfranchises convicted felons upon completion of federal supervision.