Muntaqim v. Coombe, Docket No. 01-7260.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
Writing for the CourtJosé A. Cabranes
Citation366 F.3d 102
PartiesJalil Abdul MUNTAQIM, also known as Anthony Bottom, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Phillip COOMBE, Anthony Annucci, and Louis F. Mann, Defendants-Appellees.
Docket NumberDocket No. 01-7260.
Decision Date23 April 2004
366 F.3d 102
Jalil Abdul MUNTAQIM, also known as Anthony Bottom, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Phillip COOMBE, Anthony Annucci, and Louis F. Mann, Defendants-Appellees.
Docket No. 01-7260.
United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.
Argued: March 10, 2003.
Decided: April 23, 2004.

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Jonathan W. Rauchway (J. Peter Coll, Jr., Cleo A. Jones, and Tara J. Myslinski, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, of counsel), New York, NY, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Julie M. Sheridan, Assistant Solicitor General (Caitlin J. Halligan, Solicitor General, and Peter H. Schiff, Senior Counsel, of counsel, Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General of the State of New York, on the brief), Albany, NY, for Defendants-Appellees.

Nancy Northup (Jessie Allen, Kim Barry, of counsel), Brennan Center for Justice, New York University School of Law, New York, NY, for amicus curiae Brennan Center for Justice.

Before: MESKILL, CARDAMONE and CABRANES, Circuit Judges.

JOSÉ A. CABRANES, Circuit Judge.


We are asked in this case to decide whether the Voting Rights Act ("VRA"), which prohibits voting qualifications that result in the abridgment of the right to

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vote on account of race, can be applied to a New York State statute that disenfranchises currently incarcerated felons and parolees. Although we recognize that this is a difficult question that can ultimately be resolved only by a determination of the United States Supreme Court, we conclude that the Voting Rights Act, which is silent on the topic of state felon disenfranchisement statutes, cannot be applied to draw into question the validity of New York's disenfranchisement statute. We believe that, in light of recent Supreme Court decisions that have clarified the scope of Congress's enforcement power under the Reconstruction Amendments,1 the application of the Voting Rights Act to felon disenfranchisement statutes such as that of New York would infringe upon the states' well-established discretion to deprive felons of the right to vote. Because the Supreme Court has instructed us that statutes should not be construed to alter the constitutional balance between the states and the federal government unless Congress makes its intent to do so unmistakably clear, we will not construe the Voting Rights Act to extend to New York's felon disenfranchisement statute.

Plaintiff-Appellant Jalil Abdul Muntaqim, a convicted felon imprisoned in New York, appeals from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (Norman A. Mordue, Judge), granting defendants' motion for summary judgment and dismissing the complaint in its entirety. In the complaint, Muntaqim alleged, inter alia, that New York State's felon disenfranchisement statute, N.Y. Elec. Law § 5-106 ("§ 5-106"), violates section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Pub.L. No. 89-110, 79 Stat. 437 (codified as amended at 42 U.S.C. § 1973) ("§ 1973"). Section 5-106 disenfranchises all felons in the State of New York who are incarcerated or on parole. Muntaqim asserts that this statute violates § 1973 because it "results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color." 42 U.S.C. § 1973(a).

The District Court concluded that Muntaqim had failed to state a § 1973 claim because that provision of the Voting Rights Act is not applicable to New York's felon disenfranchisement statute. We agree. Under Supreme Court precedent, because § 1973 would alter the constitutional balance between the states and the federal government if it were construed to extend to state felon disenfranchisement statutes such as § 5-106, we look for a clear statement from Congress to support that construction of the statute. Having found no such statement, we hold that § 1973 cannot be used to challenge the legality of § 5-106. In so holding, we do not in any way cast doubt on Congress's authority to enact the Voting Rights Act, nor do we purport to decide whether, as a general rule, the "results" methodology of § 1973 is constitutionally valid. Instead, we hold only that, in the absence of a clear statement from Congress, § 1973 should not be applied to state felon disenfranchisement statutes, such as those of New York, which are expressly sanctioned in the text of the Constitution and have been widely used as a penological tool since before the Civil War.

BACKGROUND

Muntaqim is a black inmate at the Shawangunk Correctional Facility in Wallkill, New York who is currently serving a maximum

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sentence of life imprisonment. On September 26, 1994, he filed a pro se complaint against several officials of the New York State Department of Correctional Services (collectively, "defendants") alleging, inter alia, that § 5-106, New York State's felon disenfranchisement statute, violates § 1973 because it "results in a denial or abridgement of the right ... to vote on account of race." 42 U.S.C. § 1973(a).2

In particular, the complaint asserts that, even if the New York State legislature did not intend to discriminate when it enacted § 5-106, that statute violates the Voting Rights Act because it has "`resulted' in unlawful dilution of voting rolls in the African-American and Hispanic communities of New York City" (Compl.¶ 18), and because the racial disparity in New York's prison population is caused, at least in part, by racial discrimination in sentencing.3 Muntaqim alleges that, although blacks and Hispanics constitute less than thirty percent of the voting-age population in New York State, they make up over eighty percent of the inmates in the state prison system. Moreover, according to the complaint, eighty percent of incarcerated Hispanics and blacks come from "New York City and it[]s environs."4 (Id.) Based on these figures, Muntaqim claims that § 5-106 violates § 1973 both by denying him the right to vote and by "diluting" the so-called black and Hispanic vote in New York City.5

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On October 25, 1999, the defendants moved for summary judgment, and the motion was referred to Magistrate Judge Gustave J. DiBianco. The magistrate judge filed a Report and Recommendation on July 18, 2000, recommending that the defendants' motion be granted because § 1973 is not applicable to felon disenfranchisement statutes. After receipt of Muntaqim's timely objection, the District Court adopted in full the Report and Recommendation on January 24, 2001, and entered judgment in favor of the defendants. Muntaqim then filed a timely notice of appeal, and, on June 4, 2002, we appointed counsel for Muntaqim.

Because the District Court ruled that Muntaqim's complaint failed to state a cognizable claim under the Voting Rights Act, we will treat its decision as a ruling on a motion to dismiss rather than a ruling on a motion for summary judgment. See Schwartz v. Compagnie General Transatlantique, 405 F.2d 270, 273 (2d Cir.1968) ("A motion for summary judgment may be made solely on the pleadings[;] when it is so made it is functionally the same as a motion to dismiss or a motion for judgment on the pleadings.").

DISCUSSION

I. Standard of Review

We review District Court determinations on motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment de novo. See, e.g., Miller v. Wolpoff & Abramson, L.L.P., 321 F.3d 292, 300 (2d Cir.2003). In this case, "because the district court's disposition `presents only a legal issue of statutory interpretation.... [w]e review de novo whether the district court correctly interpreted the statute.'" Perry v. Dowling, 95 F.3d 231, 235 (2d Cir.1996) (quoting White v. Shalala, 7 F.3d 296, 299 (2d Cir.1993)).

II. Relevant Statutory Provisions

Section 5-106 of the New York Election Law provides that no person convicted of a felony "shall have the right to register for or vote at any election" unless he has been pardoned, his maximum sentence of imprisonment has expired, or he has been discharged from parole.6 Accordingly, no

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residents of New York State who are presently incarcerated for a felony or are on parole may vote in local, state, or federal elections.7

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, codified at 42 U.S.C. § 1973 and originally enacted in 1965, prohibits any state limitation on the right to vote that has a racially discriminatory result. In particular, the current version of § 1973(a) provides:

No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision in a manner which results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color....

42 U.S.C. § 1973(a).8 Section 1973(b) states that "[a] violation of subsection (a) ... is established if, based on the totality of the circumstances, it is shown that ... members [of protected racial minorities] have less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice." 42 U.S.C. § 1973(b).

The current language of § 1973 was enacted by Congress as part of the Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1982, Pub.L. No. 97-205, § 3, 96 Stat. 131, 134, largely in response to the Supreme Court's decision in City of Mobile v. Bolden, 446 U.S. 55, 100 S.Ct. 1490, 64 L.Ed.2d 47 (1980). See Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30, 35, 106 S.Ct. 2752, 92 L.Ed.2d 25 (1986). In Bolden, a plurality of the Court held that racially neutral state action violates § 1973 only if it is motivated by a discriminatory purpose. 446 U.S. at 62, 100 S.Ct. 1490. The amended version of § 1973 eliminates this "discriminatory purpose" requirement and, instead, prohibits any voting qualification or standard that "results" in the denial of the right to vote "on account of" race.

III. Applicability of § 1973 to Felon Disenfranchisement Statutes

A. Baker v. Pataki

In Baker v. Pataki, 85 F.3d 919 (2d Cir.1996), our in banc Court addressed the exact legal question presented by this case — namely, whether §...

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15 practice notes
  • Simmons v. Galvin, No. 08-1569.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • July 31, 2009
    ...Similarly, the Second Circuit has noted the "nearly universal use of felon disenfranchisement as a punitive device." Muntaqim v. Coombe, 366 F.3d 102, 123 (2d Cir.2004) (vacated en banc on other grounds). "Congress [has also] recognized the punitive nature of felon disenfranchisement laws."......
  • Johnson v. Governor of State of Florida, No. 02-14469.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • April 12, 2005
    ...Rights Act applies to Florida's felon disenfranchisement provision. The Circuits are split on this issue. Compare Muntaqim v. Coombe, 366 F.3d 102, 124 (2d Cir.2004) (holding that Section 2 did not reach New York's felon disenfranchisement statute), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 125 S.Ct. 480......
  • Hayden v. Pataki, Docket No. 04-3886-pr.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • May 4, 2006
    ...Judge) on a motion for summary judgment, a decision which was then affirmed by a three-judge panel of this Court, Muntaqim v. Coombe, 366 F.3d 102 (2d Cir.2004); and Hayden v. Pataki, which raises substantially identical claims, was dismissed on the pleadings by the United States District C......
  • Hayden v. Paterson, No. 04-3886-pr.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • January 28, 2010
    ...In its decision, the District Court dismissed plaintiffs' claim under section 2 of the VRA in light of our decision in Muntaqim v. Coombe, 366 F.3d 102 (2d Cir.2004). Hayden, 2004 WL 1335921, at *5. Soon thereafter, our Court, nostra sponte, ordered an en banc consideration of plaintiffs' V......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
15 cases
  • Hayden v. Paterson, No. 04-3886-pr.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • January 28, 2010
    ...In its decision, the District Court dismissed plaintiffs' claim under section 2 of the VRA in light of our decision in Muntaqim v. Coombe, 366 F.3d 102 (2d Cir.2004). Hayden, 2004 WL 1335921, at *5. Soon thereafter, our Court, nostra sponte, ordered an en banc consideration of plaintiffs' V......
  • Simmons v. Galvin, No. 08-1569.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit
    • July 31, 2009
    ...Similarly, the Second Circuit has noted the "nearly universal use of felon disenfranchisement as a punitive device." Muntaqim v. Coombe, 366 F.3d 102, 123 (2d Cir.2004) (vacated en banc on other grounds). "Congress [has also] recognized the punitive nature of felon disenfranchisement laws."......
  • Johnson v. Governor of State of Florida, No. 02-14469.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • April 12, 2005
    ...Rights Act applies to Florida's felon disenfranchisement provision. The Circuits are split on this issue. Compare Muntaqim v. Coombe, 366 F.3d 102, 124 (2d Cir.2004) (holding that Section 2 did not reach New York's felon disenfranchisement statute), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 125 S.Ct. 480......
  • Hayden v. Pataki, Docket No. 04-3886-pr.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • May 4, 2006
    ...Judge) on a motion for summary judgment, a decision which was then affirmed by a three-judge panel of this Court, Muntaqim v. Coombe, 366 F.3d 102 (2d Cir.2004); and Hayden v. Pataki, which raises substantially identical claims, was dismissed on the pleadings by the United States District C......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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