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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: 91935

Reported Deaths: 2780
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds6884152
DeSoto527653
Harrison366071
Jackson332666
Madison316485
Rankin312173
Lee251566
Jones234077
Forrest229468
Washington214771
Lafayette199339
Lauderdale1977122
Bolivar175064
Oktibbeha172549
Lamar154833
Neshoba1513103
Panola140326
Lowndes138057
Sunflower136943
Warren136249
Leflore133279
Pike119848
Pontotoc119616
Monroe116665
Scott114925
Copiah114533
Coahoma108926
Holmes107658
Marshall105914
Grenada102634
Lincoln102652
Yazoo102527
Simpson99841
Union96223
Tate94337
Leake93235
Adams88133
Wayne86421
Pearl River83349
Marion82832
Covington78721
Prentiss77317
Alcorn74610
Newton74222
George74013
Itawamba72921
Tallahatchie72517
Winston71819
Tishomingo64035
Attala63325
Chickasaw63124
Tippah62016
Walthall58525
Clay55916
Hancock54420
Noxubee53915
Jasper53214
Clarke51937
Smith51514
Calhoun50612
Tunica47013
Claiborne44716
Montgomery44420
Lawrence42112
Yalobusha41014
Perry38216
Humphreys36815
Quitman3595
Stone34511
Greene33316
Webster32613
Jefferson Davis31711
Carroll30612
Amite30310
Wilkinson29917
Kemper28415
Sharkey25811
Jefferson2349
Benton2081
Franklin1833
Choctaw1775
Issaquena1023
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 128097

Reported Deaths: 2264
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson18531332
Mobile12931288
Montgomery8546170
Madison730373
Tuscaloosa6984109
Lee557059
Shelby544649
Baldwin500347
Marshall375942
Etowah324744
Calhoun316538
Morgan311825
Houston258621
Elmore246847
DeKalb229319
St. Clair217434
Walker217480
Talladega199125
Limestone190819
Cullman179717
Dallas172526
Franklin170328
Russell16852
Autauga161924
Lauderdale159031
Colbert156024
Escambia153824
Blount148713
Jackson144210
Chilton142824
Dale127442
Covington127227
Coffee12357
Pike11289
Tallapoosa112483
Chambers110742
Clarke104316
Marion90328
Butler90138
Barbour8097
Marengo69419
Winston68012
Lowndes64327
Pickens61514
Bibb6129
Hale60928
Bullock58314
Randolph58112
Lawrence57320
Monroe5708
Washington54213
Geneva5364
Perry5366
Wilcox52911
Cherokee52615
Conecuh51611
Crenshaw50731
Clay5057
Macon46619
Henry4474
Sumter41419
Fayette4088
Choctaw34212
Lamar3272
Cleburne3056
Greene29715
Coosa1573
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