Federal court hears felon voting rights case in Mississippi

Several felons are wanting to have their voting rights restored through a lawsuit filed in federal court in Mississippi.

Posted: Dec 3, 2019 9:51 AM
Updated: Dec 4, 2019 10:43 AM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal appeals court hears arguments Tuesday on the constitutionality of Mississippi laws that permanently bar certain felons from voting unless they can get their rights restored through what advocates say is a difficult process.

Six convicted felons are pushing to have their voting rights restored through a lawsuit filed in federal court in Mississippi. They have argued that the restrictions imposed in 1890 were designed to “permanently disenfranchise black voters.”

After a district court judge in August ruled mostly — but not entirely — in the state’s favor, the six felons and the state both appealed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

The Mississippi Constitution strips people convicted of 10 specific felonies of the right to vote. Those crimes include murder, forgery and bigamy. The list was later expanded by the state’s attorney general to 22 crimes, including timber larceny and carjacking.

Those convicted of a crime can get their voting rights restored only by going through a process of getting individual bills passed just for them with two-thirds approval by the Legislature, or by getting a pardon from the governor.

The felons argued to the appeals court in briefs that those two laws: “...ensure that, with extremely limited and arbitrary exceptions, a citizen convicted in a Mississippi state court of a disenfranchising felony will never again vote in the state, no matter how minor the underlying crime or how long the citizen may live after sentence completion.”

The plaintiffs argue the lifetime voting ban is cruel and unusual punishment — a violation of the 8th Amendment. They also argue that the restoration process violates the constitution’s Equal Protection Clause because when it was adopted in 1890 it was intended to keep African Americans from voting and still disproportionately affects black people.

In his August decision, U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III threw out most of the challenges but left alive one challenge to how Mississippi allows people to regain their voting rights. Jordan previously certified the case as a class action, meaning it could potentially affect thousands of people.

The state argues that the secretary of state’s office, which oversees elections, doesn’t play a role in restoring voting rights and was wrongly sued. The state has also argued that the plaintiffs cannot prove any “present-day discriminatory effects.”

“There is no question that the U.S. Constitution expressly approves of the right of a State to disenfranchise felons — including permanently,” the state argued.D

Various groups have come together to support reinstating voting rights to felons — the libertarian Cato Institute, the American Probation and Parole Association, and the ACLU and Mississippi branch of the NAACP.

In its brief, the APPA argued that voting helps ex-offenders reintegrate into society.

“Denying released offenders this basic right takes away their full dignity as citizens, separates them from the rest of their community, and reduces them to second-class citizens,” the group wrote.

In its brief, the Cato Institute argued that Mississippi’s disenfranchisement law went far beyond what the Constitution intended when it allowed states to restrict voting rights and decried what it calls an arbitrary way of choosing which crimes could result in disenfranchisement.

“For every crime on the list there is a similar or even worse crime not on the list. Check fraud means permanent disenfranchisement. But credit card fraud carries no similar penalty,” the group argued. “By disenfranchising individuals for minor crimes, Mississippi drastically departs from the States that understand permanent disenfranchisement for what it is — among the most severe penalties our society can inflict.”

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 98886

Reported Deaths: 2979
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7189161
DeSoto569464
Harrison394175
Jackson358570
Rankin337280
Madison334190
Lee293572
Forrest254275
Jones252780
Washington227879
Lafayette221240
Lauderdale2078126
Bolivar187370
Oktibbeha181952
Lamar176237
Lowndes160858
Neshoba1599104
Panola151631
Sunflower149146
Leflore143882
Warren141850
Pontotoc130116
Monroe125369
Pike124954
Copiah119933
Scott118027
Coahoma117530
Lincoln112353
Marshall111821
Grenada110136
Holmes110060
Yazoo106733
Simpson105847
Tate101938
Union101224
Leake96538
Adams94937
Wayne91521
Pearl River91453
Prentiss88418
Marion87537
Itawamba85921
Alcorn83411
Covington83223
George78513
Tallahatchie78324
Newton78124
Winston74619
Tishomingo71039
Tippah70518
Chickasaw69524
Attala67225
Clarke61149
Walthall60426
Clay59919
Hancock59822
Jasper58415
Noxubee55816
Smith55115
Calhoun52912
Tunica50015
Montgomery47020
Claiborne46516
Yalobusha44414
Lawrence43914
Perry43221
Quitman3905
Greene38917
Stone38013
Humphreys37715
Jefferson Davis34711
Amite34210
Webster33913
Carroll33112
Wilkinson30818
Kemper29115
Sharkey26714
Jefferson2439
Benton2333
Franklin1993
Choctaw1876
Issaquena1063
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 138162

Reported Deaths: 2405
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson20221352
Mobile13558295
Tuscaloosa9029118
Montgomery8894187
Madison800580
Shelby616450
Lee601761
Baldwin564052
Marshall398345
Etowah357545
Calhoun356944
Morgan334929
Houston295421
Elmore273948
DeKalb246121
St. Clair237937
Walker236987
Talladega219030
Limestone215720
Cullman192220
Dallas179926
Franklin179430
Autauga179127
Russell17903
Lauderdale175934
Colbert168426
Blount162915
Escambia162024
Jackson161112
Chilton160930
Dale141844
Covington141628
Coffee13936
Pike122011
Chambers117942
Tallapoosa117385
Clarke110916
Marion97629
Butler91740
Barbour8967
Winston75112
Marengo72820
Pickens67215
Randolph67213
Bibb66411
Lowndes65927
Hale65328
Geneva6505
Lawrence63625
Cherokee62013
Bullock61015
Clay5929
Monroe5928
Washington56012
Crenshaw54532
Perry5436
Conecuh53811
Wilcox53211
Henry5145
Macon48318
Fayette47311
Sumter43419
Cleburne4085
Lamar3822
Choctaw35212
Greene30615
Coosa1743
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