The Daily Caller

The Daily Caller
Attorney General Eric H. Holder speaks during the Community Memorial Service at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., Sept. 15, 2013. (REUTERS/Marvin Gentry) Attorney General Eric H. Holder speaks during the Community Memorial Service at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., Sept. 15, 2013. (REUTERS/Marvin Gentry)  

Disproportionate definitions of ‘disproportionate’ impact

Photo of Hughey Newsome
Hughey Newsome
Advisory Council, Project 21

In a speech this past February, Attorney General Eric Holder said Americans need to reconsider punishing convicted felons by taking away their right to vote.

While some states have means for felons — usually those convicted of non-violent crimes — to regain their voting rights, Holder said, “an estimated 5.8 million Americans — 5.8 million of our fellow citizens — are prohibited from voting because of current and previous felony convictions.”

In particular, Holder cited that 2.2 million African-Americans, or nearly one in 13 African-American adults, cannot vote because “[t]hese laws, with their disparate impact on minority communities, echo policies enacted during a deeply troubled period in America’s past — a time of post-Civil War discrimination.”

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) also recently weighed in on felon voting rights, saying: “It’s an important issue. When you look at who is being deprived of voting, they are disproportionately people of color.”

By the Attorney General’s own numbers, most of the people restricted from voting are not African-American. But Holder, like Paul, rightly observed these laws do have a disproportionate impact on communities of color. Paul, however, didn’t go as far as Holder in suggesting such restrictions are akin to institutionalized racism in the 19th century.

The word “disproportionate” nonetheless deserves some discussion, as its application — of lack thereof — is sometimes asymmetrical.

Holder and Paul both observed the proportion of African-Americans disallowed from voting because of felony status is significantly different from the proportion of the general population that similarly cannot vote. While salacious language like “post-Civil War discrimination” seems questionable, there’s no question it is disproportionate.

Yet liberals are inconsistent in noting harm caused by disproportionate impact. In other words, rousing language such as “post-Civil War discrimination” is used to denounce disproportionate policies they disagree with, but they lack such ferocity when considering the disproportionate impacts of their own policies.

Consider voter ID laws. Because African-Americans disproportionately lack government-issued IDs, voting ID laws are considered racially discriminatory because of a disproportionate impact on African-Americans. No mind seems to be paid to the fact there are economic ramifications of lacking such identification, and how voter ID laws can be a benefit because many offer free access to IDs and thus help level the economic playing field.

Consider abortion. Regardless of one’s stance on abortion, ending a pregnancy is — without doubt — an emotionally-devastating prospect for a woman. Per federal estimates, more than three times as many African-American pregnancies end in abortion compared to whites. There is no question this is disproportionate. New York City officials reported African-American abortion rate of 42.4 percent in 2012 — where more African-American pregnancies end in abortion than live births. This is clearly disproportionate, yet this disproportionality apparently fails to incite liberal outrage. In fact, they would defend any attempt to reduce it.