“Purposeful racial discrimination” is the phrase Justice William H. Rehnquist used in 1985 when the Supreme Court struck down a provision in the Alabama state constitution that stripped voting rights from people who commit crimes of “moral turpitude” and other offenses. Nevertheless, the Alabama legislature in 1996 passed a law that similarly denied voting rights to people convicted of felonies “involving moral turpitude,” a problematically vague term that gave local registrars discretion to determine who belonged on the rolls and, thus, opened the door to bias. With the state facing another lawsuit alleging racial discrimination, the legislature in May passed a Republican-sponsored bill that clearly stated which criminal convictions would cost felons the right to vote and which would not. For example, crimes such as murder, rape and “enticing a child to enter a vehicle for immoral purposes” would result in the loss of voting rights; offenses such as drug possession or third-degree burglary would not.
Alabama’s Republican governor, Kay Ivey, signed the bill into law a week later. The clarification meant the restoration of voting rights for tens of thousands of people.
Fast-forward six months: “Fox & Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade on Thursday told viewers that “Democrats have a new secret weapon to win the hotly contested Alabama Senate race: convicted felons.”
Never mind that the felons’ voting rights were restored by Republican lawmakers or that one of history’s best-known conservative Supreme Court justices determined 32 years ago that bigotry had motivated Alabama’s sweeping disenfranchisement. On “Fox & Friends,” the right of certain citizens to vote was presented as a nefarious “secret weapon” of Democrats.