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Parolees and incarcerated felons seeking the right to vote suffered a major setback April 23, when the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the New York state statute denying them the vote does not violate federal law. The case, known as Muntaqim v. Coombe, was first brought in 1994 by Jalil Abdul Muntaqim, who is serving a life sentence for murder at Shawangunk Correctional Facility. He argued that the state law was inherently discriminatory against African Americans and Latinos, who suffer from disproportionate incarceration rates, and should thus be overturned under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The three-judge appellate panel upheld an earlier judgment by the U.S. District Court, ruling that invoking the 14th Amendment “would alter the constitutional balance between the states and the federal government.” The ruling could have a negative impact on Hayden v. Pataki, which also challenges voter disenfranchisement under the Voting Rights Act, as well as the Equal Protection clause and the First Amendment, and is still pending in federal court. But both the Ninth Circuit and Eleventh Circuit courts have let cases like Hayden move forward. Currently, Vermont and Maine allow felons in prisons and on parole to vote. [05/10/04]

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