Rather than deal directly with the evidence, both statistical and historical, Mr. Holder put the issue squarely in terms of race: Because blacks stand convicted of crimes in greater numbers than their proportion of the population would dictate, the effect on them of felon disenfranchisement statutes is disproportionately high; that disproportion is unjust, and the laws should be repealed. The attorney general proposes substituting for current laws and practice what is essentially a transactional standard implicit in the phrase paying one’s debt to society: Once the sentence has been served, the fine paid, it is time to make it—as a cleanup-company slogan says—like it never even happened.

Mr. Holder does not urge that we go as far as the states of Maine and Vermont, which bar disenfranchisement on any basis and thus permit convicts to vote from jail (assuming their residency requirements are otherwise in order). But neither does he display anything but contempt for the notion that there is a moral taint that attaches to a felony conviction—a taint that should require that one at least show some brief period of law-abiding existence before full readmission to the polity.