‘No Surrender, No Retreat’: VOTE v. Louisiana Denied, But A Projected 40,000 Are Rejoining Democracy in March 2019

“No surrender, no retreat!” declared Checo Yancy, one of the plaintiffs in VOTE v. Louisiana and Director of Voters Organized to Educate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, fired up as ever as a robust movement for voting rights led by formerly incarcerated people in Louisiana continues in full force even after the Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision this week in VOTE v. Louisiana.

On Monday, over a powerful dissent by Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette J. Johnson – the first Black woman to serve as the Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court –the majority of the Louisiana Supreme Court denied a writ application for review in VOTE v. Louisiana, a case brought on behalf of our partner Voice of the Experienced (VOTE) , a grassroots organization founded and led by Norris Henderson and other formerly incarcerated people in Louisiana. Chief Justice Johnson’s dissent is here.

Since filing the writ application in June, VOTE has pivoted to implementing Act 636, a companion piece of legislation to VOTE v. Louisiana. Fought for and won by VOTE and its allies last May, Act 636 restores the right to vote to an estimated 43,000 people, including some parolees and virtually every probationer in the state.

Introduced and sponsored by Rep. Patricia Smith of Baton Rouge, Act 636 is widely known nationally as one of the only pieces – if not the only piece – of state-based rights restoration legislation successfully passed this past year.

VOTE v. Louisiana, a case brought under the state constitution’s affirmative right to vote provision, sought to end Louisiana’s disenfranchisement of approximately 70,000 persons currently on probation and parole. “African-Americans are the single largest racial group of 70,000 people currently on probation or parole,” wrote Professor Andrea Armstrong, a constitutional law scholar and one of the many amici curiae who filed briefs on behalf of VOTE in the case. She further wrote that Louisiana’s disenfranchisement of parolees and probationers “is reminiscent of historical efforts to limit the exercise of the franchise by race. ‘For every effort to give effect to the ability of black voters to exercise the franchise, there were equally forceful efforts to resist and oppose black franchise and integration.’”[1] The amicus curiae briefs and other pleadings are available here.

Act 636 is projected to restore voting rights for over half of the putative class in VOTE v. Louisiana.

“We are disappointed with [the Louisiana Supreme Court’s writ denial], but invigorated by Chief Justice Johnson’s wise dissent and our work ahead in ensuring that over 40,000 citizens in Louisiana rejoin our democracy on March 1, 2019, the effective date of Act 636,” said Norris Henderson, Executive Director of VOTE, in a press release issued today.

VOTE’s important work of restoring the right to vote and all other fundamental human rights of those directly impacted by the criminal legal system continues. Its multi-prong approach – litigation, legislation, administrative advocacy, communications, and organizing – is breaking fresh ground, creating both new narratives and new pro-democracy laws here in the South during the rise of fascism nationally and globally. We at Advancement Project’s national office could not be prouder to stand with VOTE and its leaders. Read VOTE’s take on the decision here.


[1] Andrea Armstrong and Johanna Kalb, Amicus Curiae Brief of Louisiana Constitutional Law and History Scholars on behalf of Appellants, filed on Dec. 7, 2017 at 19 (quoting M. Isabel Medina, The Missing and Misplaced History in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder – Through the Lens of the Louisiana Experience with Jim Crow and Voting Rights in the 1890s, 33 Miss. C. L. Rev. 201, 215 (2014)), available at https://advancementproject.org/campaigns/rtvla/.