September 22, 2022
The United States of America Should Abolish Felon Disenfranchisement
The majority of modern nations function based on some form of democracy, exemplified by The United State’s constitutional republic; as well as other European nations such as the United Kingdom’s constitutional monarchy. Many of these nations hold an ideological focus on the importance of citizens' voting rights but only the United States possesses laws that remove those rights from a “...total of 19 million people…” (Shannon, Sarah K. S., et al 1806). This staggering number begs the question as to why many Americans are being prevented from exercising what the supreme court describes as the right that preserves all other rights.(Hull 1). The answer is that these citizens have committed a crime and been labeled felons. Felonies can range from mass murder to possession of marijuana but all possess the penalty of disenfranchisement as well as the restriction or nullification of many other rights. This restriction of rights, which will subsequently be referred to as felon disenfranchisement, has historically been to the detriment of minority communities such as African-Americans and has also been embroiled in debate as to its effectiveness and functional purpose. There have been many arguments made towards the re-enfranchisement of felons as well as the more radical complete abolition of felon disenfranchisement. This essay will argue for the necessity of the latter of those goals and discuss the arguments against such while focusing solely on the American implementation of these laws.
To fully explore the topic of felon disenfranchisement one must look at the history of the laws and the reasoning behind them. The first equivalent practice can be traced back to the ancient Greeks in their punishment of “civil death” for those who brought disgrace amongst themselves and their family by engaging in “infamia”(Hull 16). Civil death meant being “... denied the perquisites of citizenship, such as the right to vote, participate in court proceedings, or defend the homeland” (Hull 16). These laws have continuously existed until the modern day, continuing on in various nations and empires like Rome, Britain, France, and America.
However, this vast length of practice should not inherently denote its necessity. These laws have existed as a logical through-point between punitive justice and democracy co-existing. Though many of these laws, especially in America, have questionable reasoning or implementation that many in the modern era think of as racist in nature. One must note that, as it is illogical to declare that all punitive disenfranchisement laws are racist in nature, one must also accept that some implementation of these laws could have been enacted with racist intent. Many examples of these more questionable implementations were put in place following the American Civil War during the highly turbulent era of reconstruction. “Between 1890 and 1910 many states adopted new laws or reconfigured pre-existing laws to handicap newly enfranchised black citizens whose rights had been expanded by both the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.” (Hull 18) Such laws were often enacted at all white Southern conventions where other more blatantly racist laws were pushed for and adopted such as “literacy tests, grandfather and ‘understanding’ clauses, property qualifications, and poll taxes.”(Hull 18) The president of one such convention in Alabama stated these policies were pushed for; ‘‘within the limits imposed by the Federal Constitution to establish white supremacy.’’(Hull 18) Such laws were often selective in what crimes they punished and how they were applied; openly targeting African Americans. One abhorrently honest implementation was “when Alabama revised its constitution in 1901…” to include “... ‘wifebeating’ among the offenses triggering disenfranchisement, because, as one drafter explained, that crime alone ‘would disqualify sixty percent of the Negroes.’ ’’(Hull 20) There are many other such outright discriminatory laws, but the inclusion of disenfranchisement statutes was often as an insurance policy to ensure the elimination of African-American voter turnout should other more outright laws be deemed unconstitutional. This can be seen to be effective in states such as Louisiana where after the Civil war where “blacks made up 44 percent of the electorate” but by “1920, they constituted less than 1 percent”. (Hull 21,22)Such examples can be found across the nation though the more blatant practices have been repealed, the many disenfranchisement laws such as felon disenfranchisement enacted during this time do not number among them. Unfortunately, the effect of these persisting laws can be felt in the modern era as can be seen by “approximately 23 % in 2010”(Shannon, Sarah K. S., et al 1805) of African Americans having past or present felony convictions and thus mostly being disenfranchised. One stark fact to note is that “while African Americans comprise 13% of the total U.S. population (2010), African Americans represent 37% of the U.S. felon population.”(Pinkard 3) As Pinkard continues to state, “racial disparity in state felon disenfranchisement law contradicts the principles of one person, one vote, and equal representation (U.S.constitutional democracy).” (Pinkard 3) This statement begs the question as to why one would be a proponent of these laws.
To properly answer this question we must examine a prominent legal and philosophical theory known as the “rights-forfeiture theory”. This theory “contends that punishment is justified when and because the criminal has forfeited her right not to be subjected to this hard treatment.” (Wellman 331). To put it simply, when a person commits a crime they have, by terms of their social contract, given up some of their rights; typically this is exemplified by their right to liberty as they are forcibly placed in confinement for protection from vigilante reprisal and to protect others from them. It is important to note that though some rights are given up by the prisoner, not all of their governmentally protected rights are. Some of these rights include freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and protection from cruel and unusual punishment. So then the question becomes why specifically is this theory extended towards voting rights as well. Prominent proponents such as Roger Clegg, the former president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, propose that prisoners do not deserve the right to vote. The use of “deserve” shifts the conversation toward a moral and philosophical standpoint as many discussions about this topic do. Clegg explains this stance by saying “[p]eople who commit serious crimes have shown that they are not trustworthy. And, as for equity, if you’re not willing to follow the rules yourself, you shouldn’t be able to make the rules for everyone else.” (Mauer 556, 557) In a direct refutation of Clegg’s argument American Criminologist Marc Mauer states; “For a start, it suggests that ‘once a criminal, always a criminal’ should govern access to the voting booth. It also rests on the dubious assumption that people who have been convicted of stealing a car, for example, cannot be trusted to participate in decision-making about which of two candidates has a more reasonable position on the war in Afghanistan, publicly-funded abortions, or health insurance policy. There is certainly no research that supports such a distinction.” (Mauer 557) This opinion by Mauer points out the illogicality that criminals inherently possess a quality that should make them ineligible to vote. Another noteworthy point is the effect voter disenfranchisement has on democracy as a whole. There are numerous negative effects that disenfranchisement has on those surrounding the disenfranchised individual. “Since voting is in large part a communal activity…any diminution of this activity may have a spillover effect. A study examining this issue found that states with more punitive disenfranchisement policies do in fact have lower electoral participation even among legally eligible voters.” (Mauer 561,562) This effect can also be speculated as to why the majority of early proponents of felon disenfranchisement attempted to pass these laws. The purpose of including disenfranchisement clauses was to effectively subdue the African-American vote as this essay has previously shown to be effective. This speculation can be furthered to modernity in the context of mainly Republican candidates being pro felon disenfranchisement due to historically “African Americans…” having “… overwhelmingly voted for the Democratic candidate”(Wallace, David S., et al 145).
One of the more objective parts of the debate over felon disenfranchisement is discussing its constitutionality. Unfortunately for those against this practice the U.S. Constitution, a “constitution dedicated to a government of the people and by the people nowhere establishes a universal right to vote.”(Hull 81). This means that the United States is in direct violation of the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which directly states that its member states' citizens’ voting rights be upheld. While this fact alone will not bring change as the United Nations is highly unlikely to directly go against United States’ law; the fourteenth amendment is much tougher to overlook. Detractors of felon disenfranchisement have long cited the fourteenth amendment’s equal protection clause as an avenue to challenge it. “The equal protection clause, Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment, provides that no state may ‘deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.’”(Hull 96) While the Supreme court has never directly commented on the issue, they have upheld multiple lower court decisions where they “concluded that both a state and a territorial law denying the suffrage to convicted felons were not ‘open to any constitutional … objection.’”(Hull 96). Essentially the supreme court is washing its hands and refusing to comment further on it. This sentiment is much more amenable in lower courts which have regularly tried to “soften its edges”(Hull 104) though to date none have directly challenged the supreme court’s rulings. Another oft-cited law is the 1965 Voting Rights Act. “Attorneys challenging disenfranchisement laws frequently maintain that by disproportionately burdening racial minorities these laws violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA).” (Hull 104) Unlike the fourteenth amendment, the Supreme court has never directly commented on the issues, but the issue has also never reached that high. This is however a newer stratagem and as such, there has not been as plentiful case law, however, a lengthy comment by the influential ninth circuit court of appeals about a Washington felon disenfranchisement law has given many detractors hope that the VRA may be a fruitful route to lodge felon disenfranchisement cases. The only true way to enact vast reform or change without implementing new laws is to look toward the supreme court. This has so far not been fruitful but for the millions of citizens who are disenfranchised, this could be the only course they have to take.
Felon disenfranchisement is a controversial topic in modern discourse. It affects millions, has the power to overturn election results, and denies citizens of the United States of America what many perceive to be a basic right yet has almost no public sympathies or outcries. This is because, while this is a large issue, it affects those that many in society overlook, purposefully or otherwise. It affects criminals. It also indirectly affects their families and communities. The existence of many of these laws in America began as blatantly racist attempts to prevent African Americans from having the ability to vote, and have continued to work towards that purpose with minimal backlash. They stand on shaky legal grounds and even worse logical and moral ones. They go into direct conflict with the United States’ allies and equals on the world stage which has seen their problems and repealed such laws in their own nations. Yet are continually upheld by those in power within America to maintain said power. Felon disenfranchisement has no place in modern America and stands as a direct testament to some of its darkest periods. Felon disenfranchisement should be completely abolished in The United States of America.
(Hull, Elizabeth A., and John Conyers. The Disenfranchisement of Ex-Felons. Temple University
Press, 2006. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt14bt1q1. Accessed 7 Sep. 2022.)
Mauer, Marc. “Voting Behind Bars: An Argument for Voting by Prisoners.” Howard Law
Journal, vol. 54, no. 3, Spring 2011, pp. 549–66. EBSCOhost, https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edo&AN=62807145&site=eds-live&scope=site.
(Pinkard, John E. African American Felon Disenfranchisement : Case Studies in Modern Racism
and Political Exclusion. LFB Scholarly Publishing LLC, 2013. EBSCOhost, https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.uno.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e000xna&AN=520432&site=eds-live&scope=site.)
Shannon, Sarah K. S., et al. “The Growth, Scope, and Spatial Distribution of People With Felony
Records in the United States, 1948-2010.” Demography, vol. 54, no. 5, 2017, pp. 1795–818. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/45047318. Accessed 13 Sep. 2022.
Wallace, David S., et al. “African American’s Political Attitudes, Party Affiliation, and Voting
Behavior.” Journal of African American Studies, vol. 13, no. 2, June 2009, pp. 139–46. EBSCOhost, https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.uno.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsjsr&AN=edsjsr.41819200&site=eds-live&scope=site.
Wellman, Christopher Heath. “The Rights Forfeiture Theory of Punishment *.” Ethics, vol. 122,
no. 2, Jan. 2012, pp. 371–93. EBSCOhost, https://doi-org.ezproxy.uno.edu/10.1086/663791.
November 1st, 2022
The Resurgence of Modern Fascism in Italy
It is 1974, and you’re in the Piazza Della Loggia, a beautiful, ornate square in the middle of Brescia. A city you are thankful to call home. You’re here to fight back, with the rest of your comrades, against the rising tide of neo-fascism in your home of Italy. All has been going well, there have been no signs of widespread Nero fascist protesters and fortunately no violence. It’s not your first protest, not by far, but it is for many of those with you. The crowd is made up of mostly youths, teachers, and common laborers, truly the lifeblood of Italy. Then you hear something. It’s sudden and deafening. So loud that you can't hear anything but ringing for quite some time, but when you’re finally able to make out something; you’re only able to hear screaming. Your face is blasted by heat and your nostrils are filled with smoke. You realize there is something terribly wrong. This was the experience of those who were present at the tragedy that was the Piazza Della Loggia bombing, a domestic terrorist attack which was politically motivated and designed to kill. This event represents the danger that neofascist ideologies present to our modern society. Yet seemingly ignorant of its own history, Italy has slowly but surely been moving to the far-right. The culmination of this has just resulted in the election of Georgia Meloni as Italy’s prime minister. Meloni is a candidate that claims membership in MSI, a fascist militia whose leadership was filled with some of Benito Mussolini’s highest officers. Italy has maintained a unique relationship with fascism, as the ideology is heavily intertwined throughout the nation’s culture and history, allowing neo-fascist support to rise within the nation more so than other contemporary European nations. This essay will explain Italy’s connection with fascism, what neo-fascism and the alt-right are and how they’ve gained political prominence which is exemplified in the election of Giorgia Meloni.
To fully understand any subject, one must clearly define what it is. In the case of fascism it “...is a political ideology, or way of thinking, built on the notion of nationalism and characterized by dictatorship, suppression, corporatization, and in many cases, racism” (Lasky). Neo-Fascism on the other hand “... has been described by Andrea Mammone as a philosophical movement that […] combines a sense of crisis and national decline, a fascination with a glorious past...a process of historical revisionism…” and “...growth with respect to European superiority together with an almost complete rejection of the so-called ‘others’”(Olascoaga 7). This definition provides great insight into how fascism emerged in pre-war Italy and also how neo-fascism continues to take root in the modern era.
The sense of crisis or national decline, seen in pre-war years across Europe certainly fits the description that Mammone provided. Italy’s economy saw “…a succession of overlapping crises: food and raw material shortages … acute inflation, … and rapidly rising unemployment” (Blinkhorn 18). Modern neo-fascist movements point to similar economic conditions as rallying points, such as the current perceived economic recession or job shortages. As described by Mammone, something also typical of fascist groups is the mixing of blatant racism and otherism into other stances, for example, it is typical for neo-fascist groups to argue that immigration is causing a job shortage, this type of argument intertwines the group's bigotry with economic arguments as a way to explain whatever current situation they might be in. The same can be seen in Nazi Germany when anti-Semitic sentiment became widespread and the Jewish community became the scapegoat for the causes behind society’s ailments, specifically moral degeneration or economic ailment.
We also see other traits typically assigned to fascism and neofascism appear in Italy. One of the more important is the nation’s “fascination with a glorious past”(Olascoaga 7). Fascism, “from its early days as a radical movement … deployed a language that borrowed heavily from, and hinted at, the Roman past” (Kallis 73), something that Italy claims as a national history and identity. In a similar sense, we see the use of the Roman fasces throughout Mussolini’s reign to call back to the political and military traditions of the Roman Empire which he wanted to emulate to call back to his nation’s common heritage, further enforcing his movement’s hyper-nationalism (Sternhell 1–7). At least in this facet of Italian propaganda, we can see that the Italian fascist movements typically used “familiar themes, images, and myths to promote a novel political creed”(Doordan 40) but this also points toward another trait typical of fascism: historical revisionism. The Italian Fascist movement largely ignored the liberal reforms and practices used during the Roman era and deliberately omitted what they saw as decadent practices; a practice which has continued in far right circles to this day. This is to say that Italy’s cultural connection and fascination with the historical roman empire created a stronger base for fascist ideologies to take root. This is especially evident after the significant use of historical revisionism allows for Roman society to be seen as the peak of Italian achievement for fascist groups. All of this is to show what typical features of a Fascist regime are, how Italy fits the typical mold that allows for such political movements, and how Italy in particular is especially vulnerable to these types of ideologies.
There is, however, another significant factor as to why Italy’s fascist movements have continued to exist. After world war 2 the territory under Nazi control underwent a process known as “...denazification...”, a “...term that had been minted in 1943 by legal planners at the pentagon … became a catch-all phrase covering plans to dismantle the entire Nazi apparatus, arrest and punish its key officials, and systematically eliminate Nazi supporters from the country’s political, economic, and cultural life.”(Taylor 253-254). This extensive effort, which lasted for the extent of the allied occupation of Germany and the reoccupation of key territories, resulted in the eradication of the Nazi party. Such an effort was never attempted in Italy. In Italy, the only action that was taken was the dismantling of Mussolini’s Republican Fascist Party. Since there was no thorough purge of Italian fascists or prosecution of key government figures, only three years after Mussolini’s fall from power, “Giorgio Almirante, a chief of staff in Mussolini’s last government” formed MSI (Winfield). For reference, recently elected premier Giorgia Meloni “proudly touts her roots as an MSI militant”(Winfield). Which is to say it is a highly influential political party, though having now splintered into other groups. The fascist sentiment did not solely occupy the fringes of political discussion either, during the following decade’s great divides began to form among the youths and politically active within the nation; coming to a bulwark within sporting culture. A paper by Testa and Armstrong explains that “decades of crises in the traditional forms of political aggregation and an increasing alienation of youth from mainstream politics was correlated in an increase in fan associationism” which continued to become highly politicized groupings. (Testa, Armstrong 474) The paper notes that this came to a bulwark with the rise of “the Rosso (red synonymous with communism) and Nero (black synonymous with neofascism) and often deadly battles between politically polarized youths” which shifted the climate into violent activism which culminated in “years of stragismo (ideologically based civilian slaughter)”. (Testa, Armstrong 474) This violence culminated in 1974 with one of Italy’s worst terrorist attacks; the Piazza Del Loggia bombing.
Though violence did eventually subside, and large-scale fascist protests fell out of favor, the internet provided a unique refuge for those who entertained authoritarian ideals. It allowed once publicly shamed behavior or ideologies worldwide to spread unhindered to like-minded individuals on various online message boards. As the years went on, these communities grew and eventually, began to once again publicly espouse their beliefs yet now they had the numbers and membership to take action. This is when we see groups such as France’s Generation Identity, an anti-muslim immigration group participate in widespread demonstrations. Coincidentally we also see the rise of conservative governments in Western nations, e.g. Trump, Macron, or Borris Johnson. In this climate, one is able to see a split form within Italy’s mainstream center-right party Forza Italia and the subsequent creation of the Brothers of Italy party. The party was headed by notable figures such as Allesanra Mussolini (Benito Mussolini’s grandaughter) and Giorgia Meloni and publicly featured the tri-color flame as its logo, a symbol intrinsically tied to Mussolini’s reign. (Winfield) The party, while not explicitly holding fascist ideals, is to the far right on the political spectrum; commonly espousing anti-immigrant, anti-lgbtq+, and has multiple officials who’ve publicly spoken in support of fascist ideals or fascist figures. This has culminated in Giorgia Meloni of the Brothers of Italy party ascending to the seat of prime minister.
Fascism has led to mass violence, wars, and, most notably, one of the largest genocides known to man. After the fall of Nazi Germany and the subsequent de-Nazification of Europe; the majority of mainstream fascist governments fell to either communism or western capitalist democracies. This was the norm of post-war Europe in all countries except one, Italy. In Italy, there was no en masse anti-fascist campaign as was seen in all other axis member states. Instead, Italy saw the immediate formation of The Italian Social Movement(MSI), a successor to Musollini’s Republican Fascist Party founded by his Chief of Staff, in which many members of Mussolini's government found leadership positions. This party, with clear fascist roots and neofascist beliefs, is one that Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s recently elected prime minister, held membership and publicly speaks of fondly. Italy has maintained a unique relationship with fascism as the ideology is heavily intertwined throughout the nation’s culture and history allowing neo-fascist support to rise within the nation more than others. The election of Giorgia Meloni shows that this relationship isn’t looked at as negative by the wider Italian public.
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