Tennessee Voting Restoration Law Among Most Confusing in U.S.

In March, the Florida Supreme Court could approve a 2018 ballot measure that would restore voting rights to 1.5 million residents who cannot vote because of past felony convictions. A quarter of the state’s black citizens cannot vote without a pardon from the governor. Florida is one of only three states that permanently strips the right to vote from anyone convicted of a felony.

Fourteen states plus D.C. automatically restore voting rights once a person is released from incarceration.

Tennessee is not among the best. Nor is it among the worst. But its rights restoration laws have earned a problematic distinction — they are among the most confusing.

complex-voting-restoration-w-frameThis can discourage people from even applying or can deny voting to those whose rights are legally restored, because confusing laws also confuse election officials.

Read about Florida’s regressive voting rights laws here. You can also look at disenfranchisement laws across the country on this interactive map created by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law.

Check out Just City’s Legislative Agenda for Tennessee’s upcoming legislative session.  It includes automatic expungement, which would help smooth the path for voting rights restoration.





Breaking Bail: ‘Memphis Law’ Magazine Looks at Bail Reform Movement Locally, Nationally


“What we have to remember when we talk about bail and pretrial detention is that we are talking about people who have not been convicted of anything. Yet we are jailing them for days and weeks at a time, many because they are too poor to post bail. We cannot have a different standard of justice based solely on means. That’s not fair. That’s not a justice system with integrity. We have to do better than this.”

— Stephen Bush, Shelby County Public Defender


Across the country and here in Tennessee, non-profits, foundations and even the Department of Justice are looking for ways to reform or even abolish the American bail system. The Philippines and the United States are the only two countries in the world that rely on a private bail industry. It’s estimated that bail bonds are a $14 billion dollar U.S. industry. So what can be done to change such a profitable system that has such an outsized effect on the poor?

Click here to read the article “Breaking Bail” in the latest edition of the University of Memphis quarterly, Memphis Law.

Click here to read the entire November 2016 edition of Memphis Law.


Public Defender Helps Reframe Memphis History

From riot to massacre: Shelby County assistant public defender leads effort to give truth to tribute

Phyllis and memorial.
Shelby Co. Ass’t Public Defender Phyllis Aluko at unveiling of the Memphis Massacre marker.

When Phyllis Aluko read Professor Stephen Ash’s latest book, “A Massacre in Memphis: The race riot that shook the nation one year after the civil war” she wondered why she hadn’t heard about it before.

Then, she wondered about other things — such as why it was not acknowledged with a historical marker, like so many other critical moments in Memphis’ past.

She also wondered why it was called a “race riot”  — a term used historically and still today as code for protests started by African Americans that erupt in violence.

What happened during that horrific three day period in 1866 was the murder of 46 black men, women and children, the beating or rape of many others and the burning of black churches, schools and homes — an unconscionable 36-hour killing spree carried out by white mobs.

Aluko, a supervising attorney and member of the appellate team with the Law Offices of the Shelby County Public Defender, decided to do something — about all of it.  As a board member of the Memphis NAACP, she worked tirelessly with other community organizations and the National Park Service to establish a historical marker with language that reflected the truth of that fateful day.

A dedication ceremony was held at the National Civil Rights Museum and the marker was unveiled at the Army-Navy Park at Second Ave. and Patterson St. near the museum.

You can read more about the marker and the Memphis Massacre here:

Do the Words ‘Race Riot’ Belong on a Historic Marker in Memphis? via NPR

Marker Finally Honors Truth, Victims of Memphis Massacre via The Commercial Appeal

Historian: It Was Both a ‘Riot’ and a ‘Massacre’ via The Commercial Appeal