Sa’ad El-Amin, a former Richmond city councilman convicted of a federal tax charge, filed an unusual suit Tuesday challenging felony disenfranchisement in Virginia. Among other things, the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Richmond recounts the history of felony disenfranchisement in Virginia and contends the state unfairly took the right away from felons but not from those who rebelled in the Civil War. A recent report by The Sentencing Project estimates more than 350,000 Virginians — including 20 percent of voting age blacks — cannot vote in Virginia because of felony convictions. In Virginia, only the governor can restore voting rights. The state is one of 11 that does not automatically restore rights to felons after their prison and/or parole or probation terms have been completed. The suit names the state, Gov. Bob McDonnell, the secretary of the commonwealth and the registrar for Richmond as defendants. A spokesman for the Virginia Attorney General’s Office said he could not comment on pending litigation. Felony disenfranchisement arrangements have withstood various legal challenges over the decades. The Virginia State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is scheduled to hold a news conference on the suit this morning.
El-Amin, 72, was convicted in 2003 of conspiracy to attempt or evade taxes. He was released from prison in 2006 and completed supervised release on Aug. 8, 2009. At the time he was convicted, he was a registered voter and on the City Council. His 17-page complaint says that the 14th Amendment, which was ratified in 1868, bars states from curbing the right to vote for males 21 and older except for those who participate in rebellion or other crimes. Virginia seceded from the union in 1861, says the suit, yet following the Civil War the constitution adopted by Virginia only barred those convicted of a felony from voting, not those who participated in the rebellion.