STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

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.

Cases: 145636

Reported Deaths: 3745
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto963299
Hinds9584195
Harrison6848109
Jackson6124118
Rankin528598
Lee484295
Madison4633105
Forrest368186
Jones345287
Lauderdale3350143
Lafayette315049
Washington3097107
Lamar281849
Oktibbeha239261
Bolivar239083
Lowndes228863
Neshoba2164115
Panola211749
Marshall208350
Leflore200890
Pontotoc194728
Monroe190277
Sunflower189755
Lincoln186165
Warren172257
Tate164251
Union160925
Pike160458
Copiah158940
Yazoo151239
Scott150229
Itawamba147634
Coahoma147443
Pearl River144467
Simpson144253
Alcorn143925
Prentiss140429
Grenada136945
Adams136548
Leake131843
Holmes124961
George122224
Tippah121530
Covington117636
Winston116624
Wayne115823
Hancock114139
Marion111046
Attala107833
Tishomingo106142
Newton102729
Chickasaw102432
Tallahatchie95527
Clarke88553
Clay87027
Jasper81122
Walthall75028
Stone72414
Montgomery71925
Calhoun71613
Carroll70614
Lawrence70214
Yalobusha69427
Noxubee69217
Smith68816
Perry65225
Tunica59619
Greene58422
Claiborne57416
Jefferson Davis54217
Humphreys52618
Amite51214
Benton48417
Quitman4796
Webster42014
Kemper40917
Wilkinson38622
Jefferson33811
Franklin3235
Choctaw3077
Sharkey30617
Issaquena1114
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 236865

Reported Deaths: 3472
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson31043491
Mobile19446360
Tuscaloosa12684150
Madison12528146
Montgomery12122235
Shelby992276
Baldwin837684
Lee759765
Morgan626247
Calhoun6049113
Etowah600564
Marshall596153
Houston510838
DeKalb469635
Cullman421136
Limestone408844
St. Clair403955
Elmore398961
Lauderdale387253
Walker356199
Talladega339044
Jackson302524
Colbert297641
Blount282236
Autauga266139
Franklin246233
Coffee236615
Dale228454
Dallas222331
Russell21923
Chilton218537
Covington215933
Escambia196931
Tallapoosa171790
Chambers171448
Pike156014
Clarke155319
Marion135535
Winston126623
Lawrence123936
Geneva11848
Pickens117618
Marengo117424
Barbour116710
Bibb115717
Butler114341
Randolph100321
Cherokee99624
Hale93231
Washington89918
Clay89623
Fayette86216
Henry8436
Lowndes78929
Monroe77911
Cleburne75614
Macon71720
Crenshaw70330
Bullock69019
Conecuh68214
Perry6726
Lamar6337
Wilcox62818
Sumter56222
Choctaw41813
Greene41317
Coosa3144
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
65° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 40°
Feels Like: 65°
Columbus
Clear
60° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 60°
Oxford
Clear
54° wxIcon
Hi: 68° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 54°
Starkville
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 39°
Feels Like: 61°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather