Comment: Revisiting Wesley v. Colliins and Tennessee's Disenfranchisement Statute


Comment: Revisiting Wesley v. Collins and Tennessee's Disenfranchisement Statute, by Vanessa M. Cross, LL.M., 36 U. Mem. L. 543 (2006); University of Memphis Law Review, Winter, 2006.

This essay appraises the effectiveness of the Equal Protection Clause in challenging state criminal disenfranchisement provisions that disproportionately abridge minority voting rights. This essay then examines the current federal circuits' split on the question of whether section 2 of the Voting Rights Act applies to state criminal disenfranchisement statutes. It then examines the history of Tennessee's criminal disenfranchisement statute and Wesley v. Collins, the first lawsuit to challenge the disproportionate racial impact of Tennessee's criminal disenfranchisement statute, under both the Equal Protection clause and the Voting Rights Act. Notably, Tennessee's statute would likely withstand an Equal Protection challenge because its unique legislative history reveals that its enactment was not motivated by clear racial animus. Tennessee's criminal disenfranchisement statute, however, would likely come within the scope of the Voting Rights Act because the Act is not ambiguous and would apply when a voting qualification based on felony status interacts with social and historical conditions to produce a racially discriminatory effect, as it does in Tennessee.

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