The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals voted to uphold a Jim Crow law that Mississippi’s white-supremacist leaders adopted in 1890 in an attempt to disenfranchise Black residents for life. White lawmakers designated certain crimes that they believed Black people were more likely to commit as lifelong disenfranchising crimes.
The court’s conservative majority admitted that the Jim Crow law was “steeped in racism,” but said the State had made enough changes in the 132 years since to override its white supremacist taint. A 2018 analysis found that the law still disproportionately disenfranchises Black Mississippians compared to white residents.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Mississippi Center For Justice, which filed the lawsuit against the State of Mississippi in 2017, said it will appeal the ruling in Harness v. Watson to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“This provision was part of the 1890 plan to take the vote away from Black people who had attained it in the wake of the Civil War,” said Rob McDuff, an attorney with MCJ who argued that the Jim Crow violates the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of Equal Protection under the law. “Unfortunately, the Court of Appeals is allowing it to remain in place despite its racist origins. Despite this setback, we will continue this battle and seek review in the U.S. Supreme Court.”
During the Reconstruction era, newly emancipated Black Mississippians made enormous gains as Black men gained the right to vote. But in 1890, white Mississippi lawmakers began drafting a new constitution riddled with Jim Crow laws. The new system instituted an explicitly white-supremacist regime, with its drafters bent on disenfranchising, criminalizing and denying opportunity to the state’s Black residents.
The legislative committee that drafted Mississippi’s 1890 Constitution was initially explicit in its white-supremacist goals. They adopted a resolution declaring that “it is the duty of this Com. to perform its work in such a manner as to secure permanent white rule in all departments of state government and without due violence to the true principles of our republican system of government.”
They later revised the resolution, changing “white rule” to “intelligent rule.” Contrary to popular misconception, Jim Crow laws usually masqueraded as colorblind. But on the floor of the Mississippi Constitutional Convention, lawmakers were open about their intent.