DRJ reported the basics here, quoting a story that said:
Attorneys for six Washington state prisoners, Circuit Court Judge A. Wallace Tashima wrote, “have demonstrated that police practices, searches, arrests, detention practices, and plea bargaining practices lead to a greater burden on minorities that cannot be explained in race-neutral ways.”
Joined by Judge Stephen Reinhardt in the majority opinion, Tashima found no “race neutral” explanation for the higher incarceration rates and reversed a U.S. District Court decision in favor of the felons.”
There’s a lot to say about this decision; probably more than can be said in a single blog post.
My first reaction is one that I have expressed many times before: how in the hell does Stephen Reinhardt manage to get onto the panel on every hot-button liberal issue the Ninth Circuit ever takes up?
To me, the biggest concern flowing from this decision is the precedent that federal courts can now make sweeping declarations about the discriminatory nature of the criminal justice system based on dubious studies by sociology professors. (More about that in the extended entry below.) The implications are potentially staggering and go far beyond felons’ right to vote. If federal courts can declare the entire system of criminal justice in a state (or the country!) to be racially discriminatory, you could see an invalidation of Three Strikes laws or any other recidivism statute. You could see a sweeping invalidation of laws prohibiting felons the right to possess firearms. And that could be just the tip of the iceberg.
Commenter carlitos points out another potentially disturbing impact of the decision: its potential effect on rural districts with big prisons. Given that the decision explicitly extends to currently incarcerated inmates, you’re potentially looking not just at a huge bump in the number of Democratic voters as a whole, but also very concentrated bumps in districts that otherwise would likely be reliably Republican.
What bothers me more than anything else is the way that the judges rely on dubious methodology that they don’t even seem to understand.
The rest of this post cites some of the source material and gets into a little more detail concerning that methodology. For those of you with less interest in the topic or shorter attention spans, I’m tucking this part in the extended entry.