Felony Disenfranchisement in America, Second Edition

Historical Origins, Institutional Racism, and Modern Consequences

By Katherine Irene Pettus

Subjects: Political Theory, Politics, American History, Criminology
Paperback : 9781438447209, 296 pages, April 2013

Table of contents

Preface to the Paperback Edition
1. Citizenship and Status Honor: Premodern Origins of the Contemporary American Practice of Felony Disenfranchisement
Max Weber’s Concept of Status Honor
Status Honor Institutionalized: Citizenship in the “Republican” Tradition
The Punishment of Atimia in Athens and Sparta
The Roman Infamia
Infamy, Civil Death, Attainder, and “Felony” in European and American Law
2. Felony Disenfranchisement and the Problem of Double Citizenship
Introduction: The Scholarly Critique
The Problem of Double Citizenship in the United States
Compound Citizenship Identities
Republican Citizenship
Democratic Citizenship: Growing in “Ordered Richness”
Democratic Individuality
Failures of Democratic Recognition
3. Representation, Reconstruction, and American Atimia
Atimia in the American Context of Representative Government and Party Competition
The Administrative Imperative of Black Citizenship and the Issue of White Vote Dilution
The Criminal Justice System as a Representative Institution
Vote Dilution, Individual Rights, and the Warren Court
Political Inequality of “Qualified” American Citizens
Representational versus Electoral Equality
4. Judicial Justifications of Felony Disenfranchisement and the Politics of Crime and Punishment
The Neocontractarian Justification of Felony Disenfranchisement
The Communitarian or “Republican” Justification of Felony Disenfranchisement
The Political Justification of Felony Disenfranchisement and the Politics of Law and Order
The Criminal Justice System as a Continuum of Moments
5. The Double Polity Identified
Overview of Retributive Theory
The Moral, or Reforming, Justification of Punishment
The Concept of “Crime”
Crime, Justice, and Impunity
The Racial Contract
A Postcolonial Perspective on the American Punishment Polity
The Colonial Identity and Racialized Space
Conclusion and Summary

Reveals how state felony disenfranchisement laws are undermining American democracy.


State felony disenfranchisement laws that date back to Reconstruction fracture the American electorate into "those who are citizens in the fullest sense of the term," in Aristotle's words, and those who, deprived of political voice, still have the status of slaves. The existence of this "invisible constituency"—approximately 5. 8 million or 2. 5% of the national voting population—who live alongside the "ruling" enfranchised electorate—is one of the scandals of our generation. In this second edition of Felony Disenfranchisement in America, Katherine Irene Pettus draws on philosophy, history, law, and punishment theory to make the compelling argument that state disenfranchisement policies have collective moral and political significance that transcends the personal tragedy of being legally deprived of full citizenship status. Pettus argues that the war on drugs, mass incarceration, and racially unbalanced disenfranchisement rates distort and disfigure the body politic as a whole, and undermine the legitimacy of the domestic and foreign policies promulgated by our elected representatives.

Katherine Irene Pettus is a political theorist who lives and works internationally.