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Punishment and InclusionRace, Membership, and the Limits of American Liberalism$
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Andrew Dilts

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780823262410

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: September 2015

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823262410.001.0001

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Civic Disabilities

Civic Disabilities

(p.170) 7 Civic Disabilities
Punishment and Inclusion

Andrew Dilts

Fordham University Press

Through a close reading of Maryland’s exclusion of both criminals and persons with mental disabilities from the franchise, this chapter shows how such restrictions buttress prevailing 19th century racial hierarchies in the present moment. This chapter explores the contradictory yet complementary logics of competence, responsibility, guilt, and dependency at play in Maryland’s constitutional debates. It shows how civil and political disabilities have been constructed both within and against understandings of disability in general and mental disability in particular. Convention delegates understood disenfranchisement as a practice that managed the boundaries of full citizenship through the courts’ power to determine criminal guilt and mental competence in order to shore up an unstable conception of whiteness as innocent, able, and fit to rule. Drawing on scholarship in critical disability studies, this chapter shows how disenfranchisement continues to operate racially not just in spite of color-blind liberalism, but also through its ability to disarm claims of racial animus. The norms that drove the adoption of disenfranchisement in the nineteenth century continue to ground these exclusions to the vote, meaning that the ideal figure of the American citizen continues to be compulsorily white, male, heterosexual, and able-bodied.

Keywords:   Felon disenfranchisement, Maryland, Race, Whiteness, Critical disability studies, Mental disability, Citizenship, Suffrage, Liberalism

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