121 Yale L. J. 194 (2011-2012)
The Other Side of Richardson v. Ramirez: A Textual Challenge to Felon Disenfranchisement

handle is hein.journals/ylr121 and id is 195 raw text is: THE YALE LAW JOURNAL

ABIGAIL M. HINCHCLIFF
The Other Side of Richardson v. Ramirez: A Textual
Challenge to Felon Disenfranchisement
ABSTRACT. Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment allows states to disenfranchise citizens on
account of rebellion, or other crime without reducing the size of the state's delegation in the
House of Representatives. In its 1974 decision in Richardson v. Ramirez, the Supreme Court held
that this language in the Fourteenth Amendment (the so-called Penalty Clause) provides an
affirmative sanction for at least some forms of felon disenfranchisement. Although lower
courts have construed the Ramirez Court's constitutional approval for felon disenfranchisement
broadly, this Note argues that Ramirez authorizes felon disenfranchisement only in a narrow set
of circumstances. Whereas other commentators have called for the overruling of Ramirez and for
nontextualist interpretations of the Penalty Clause, this Note works within the confines of the
Ramirez decision and follows the Court's command that language [in the Penalty Clause] was
intended ... to mean what it says. The Clause's other crime construction follows a syntactical
pattern found in three other constitutional clauses, and a close examination of the repeated use of
this construction reveals that the scope and meaning of crime is framed by the leading
examples or categories that precede it. The constitutionality of disenfranchisement is limited by
this relationship and should be reexamined.
AUTHOR. Yale Law School, J.D. expected 2012; Wesleyan University, B.A. 2008. I am grateful
to Professor Heather Gerken for advising this project, to Stephanie Turner and the staff of The
Yale Law journal for thoughtful suggestions throughout the editorial process, and to Jeremy
Golubcow-Teglasi for his constant encouragement and invaluable advice throughout the various
drafts of this Note.

194

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