UA Professor Works to Restore Ex-Felons' Civil Rights

Article excerpt

When U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder remarked last week that we should restore voting rights to people who have served their sentences after a felony conviction, Andy Silverman couldn't have agreed more.

For the past eight years, Silverman, an emeritus professor of law at the University of Arizona, has worked with hundreds of Arizonans to regain their civil rights, including their right to vote. If you believe that the right to vote in this country is precious and should be protected, then you'd likely agree with Silverman and Holder.

"It is the basic right of being a citizen," said Silverman, who is in his 44th year at James E. Rogers College of Law and director of the Civil Rights Restoration Clinic, which offers free legal services.

But that right is denied to thousands of Arizonans who have completed their sentences but who continue to confront barriers to resume productive lives, including to vote.

Holder said in a speech last Tuesday at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.: "Those swept up in this system too often had their rights rescinded, their dignity diminished, and the full measure of their citizenship revoked for the rest of their lives. They could not vote."

Since voting regulations are state rights, the U.S. Justice Department can do little to restore voting rights, other than bring attention to the growing issue, as Holder did. It's a growing issue because the U.S. has one of the highest incarceration rates in the industrialized world.

According to a 2012 study by The Sentencing Project, 5.85 million people, as of 2010, are denied the right to vote. Of the nearly six million, 75 percent have fully completed their sentences or are under supervision while on probation or parole, said the report.

This, shamefully, makes the United States one of the harshest countries in denying the vote to convicted individuals or those who have served their sentences.

Silverman said denying ex-felons the right to vote has deep historical roots, and he likens it to the poll tax, which segregated Southern states used to keep African-Americans from voting. …