Mississippi felons push court to restore voting rights

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

Posted: Dec 4, 2019 10:41 AM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The man at the center of a Mississippi case aimed at restoring the voting rights of felons said Tuesday that he is fighting on behalf of everyone like him who "made a mistake in life."

Dennis Hopkins spoke after judges at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans heard arguments in a federal lawsuit brought on behalf of six people including Hopkins who’ve had their right to vote permanently taken away under Mississippi law for committing certain felonies. The case has been certified as a class action, meaning it could affect thousands of people.

“I am fighting, standing up for the right, for the people in Mississippi, just like me, that made a mistake in life,” Hopkins said. Hopkins said he was convicted more than two decades ago of grand larceny but says he’s now an active part of his community, serving as a foster parent and a little league coach.

“Now I'm ready ... to vote and restore my rights as a human being, as a man,” he said, while surrounded by supporters.

Under the Mississippi Constitution, people convicted of 10 specific felonies — including murder, forgery and bigamy — lose the right to vote. The state’s attorney general expanded the list to 22 crimes, including timber larceny and carjacking.

To have their voting rights restored, people convicted of any of the crimes must get a pardon from the governor or persuade lawmakers to pass individual bills just for them with two-thirds approval.

The plaintiffs, represented by the firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP and the Southern Poverty Law Center, 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.

After a district court judge ruled mostly — but not entirely — in the state’s favor in August, the six felons and the state both appealed.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Jonathan K. Youngwood, said in court Tuesday that he was there on behalf of “29,000 Mississippians” who have finished their sentences and their parole and probation. But, he said: “Their punishment continues.

The plaintiffs say anyone who’s committed one of these felonies but completed their punishment including parole or probation should automatically have their voting rights restored.

In August, 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.

On Tuesday, Judge Edith H. Jones peppered Youngwood with questions. In particular she asked whether the Mississippi secretary of state’s office was the correct agency to sue.

The state argues that the secretary of state, which oversees elections, doesn’t play a role in restoring voting rights and was wrongly sued. Krissy Nobile, a special assistant attorney general, said forcing the secretary of state’s office to rectify the voting rights’ issue would “for all practical purposes be meaningless.”

The state also argues 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 in briefs filed ahead of Tuesday’s hearing.

A coalition of disparate groups supports reinstating voting rights to felons, including the libertarian Cato Institute, the American Probation and Parole Association, and the ACLU and Mississippi branch of the NAACP.

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 called an arbitrary way of choosing which crimes could result in disenfranchisement.

The APPA argued that voting helps ex-offenders reintegrate into society.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs say Mississippi is one of only three states that permanently bars felons from voting. The others are Kentucky and Iowa.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 115088

Reported Deaths: 3255
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7973177
DeSoto703979
Harrison522384
Jackson457884
Rankin394086
Madison383194
Lee357380
Forrest304678
Jones292484
Washington258399
Lafayette250443
Lauderdale2478135
Lamar225538
Oktibbeha202454
Bolivar201677
Neshoba1849111
Lowndes179962
Panola170040
Leflore167187
Sunflower162349
Warren154855
Monroe150673
Pontotoc147220
Marshall143129
Lincoln140157
Pike138456
Copiah137536
Scott125429
Coahoma124937
Grenada122638
Yazoo122234
Simpson121549
Union118825
Tate116839
Leake115041
Holmes114760
Itawamba113925
Pearl River113660
Adams108544
Prentiss106120
Wayne101722
Alcorn100112
George99218
Covington97527
Marion95042
Tippah90322
Newton86627
Chickasaw85526
Tallahatchie84526
Winston84121
Hancock84028
Tishomingo81241
Attala79426
Clarke75851
Clay69321
Jasper68717
Walthall63927
Calhoun62612
Noxubee59817
Smith59416
Montgomery54923
Yalobusha54514
Claiborne53716
Tunica53517
Lawrence51814
Perry49423
Carroll49312
Greene47818
Stone47514
Humphreys43816
Amite42513
Quitman4206
Jefferson Davis41011
Webster37613
Benton3416
Wilkinson33820
Kemper32615
Sharkey28514
Jefferson27610
Franklin2423
Choctaw2086
Issaquena1074
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 155915

Reported Deaths: 2674
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson23129377
Mobile16849315
Tuscaloosa10296140
Montgomery10197197
Madison928096
Shelby733863
Baldwin663769
Lee653465
Calhoun456761
Marshall438150
Etowah426551
Houston414834
Morgan412035
DeKalb338829
Elmore320053
St. Clair292542
Limestone284230
Walker277292
Talladega265335
Cullman244024
Lauderdale226242
Jackson214915
Franklin205231
Autauga204831
Colbert200532
Russell19443
Blount192525
Chilton186932
Dallas186527
Coffee176311
Dale175151
Covington174029
Escambia172530
Chambers135044
Clarke134317
Pike133513
Tallapoosa131787
Marion107629
Barbour10319
Marengo100822
Butler100740
Winston92213
Geneva9007
Lawrence85032
Pickens84718
Bibb82814
Randolph82316
Hale76730
Washington74412
Clay74112
Cherokee73314
Lowndes70928
Henry7086
Bullock64817
Monroe64610
Crenshaw60630
Perry5896
Fayette57413
Wilcox56712
Conecuh56113
Cleburne5568
Macon53420
Lamar4905
Sumter47221
Choctaw39012
Greene34216
Coosa2033
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Overcast
59° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 59°
Columbus
Overcast
59° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 59°
Oxford
Overcast
52° wxIcon
Hi: 60° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 52°
Starkville
Overcast
55° wxIcon
Hi: 63° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 55°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather