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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: 67649

Reported Deaths: 1912
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds5613118
DeSoto365831
Harrison252036
Madison242266
Rankin228334
Jackson227642
Jones189958
Forrest180656
Washington166341
Lee146241
Lauderdale141292
Neshoba128692
Lamar122014
Oktibbeha112239
Bolivar111334
Warren109333
Lowndes107737
Panola105913
Sunflower103925
Scott100320
Lafayette97316
Copiah95428
Pike93636
Leflore93363
Holmes89248
Grenada84721
Yazoo83112
Pontotoc8278
Lincoln81741
Monroe79655
Simpson79630
Leake78825
Wayne76721
Coahoma76013
Tate73429
Marshall6959
Marion67720
Union63616
Adams62325
Winston62016
Covington61213
George5815
Pearl River55039
Newton54211
Tallahatchie53110
Attala52225
Walthall50220
Chickasaw46219
Noxubee45711
Alcorn4285
Calhoun4189
Tishomingo4175
Prentiss41210
Claiborne40713
Smith40513
Clay39614
Hancock39014
Jasper3869
Tippah36613
Itawamba35910
Tunica3377
Clarke32726
Montgomery3265
Lawrence3238
Yalobusha31510
Humphreys29311
Quitman2691
Carroll26111
Greene25012
Perry2367
Webster23412
Kemper23314
Amite2326
Jefferson Davis2316
Wilkinson21213
Stone1995
Sharkey1975
Jefferson1967
Benton1441
Choctaw1344
Franklin1272
Issaquena261
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 99390

Reported Deaths: 1733
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson13109243
Mobile9947207
Montgomery6835148
Madison537834
Tuscaloosa421373
Unassigned359961
Baldwin354425
Shelby328335
Marshall316736
Lee267845
Morgan239318
Etowah212131
DeKalb181913
Calhoun178414
Elmore172338
Walker152664
Houston139812
Russell13682
St. Clair133817
Limestone133313
Dallas132323
Franklin127420
Cullman122512
Colbert118113
Autauga116921
Lauderdale116719
Escambia108217
Talladega102614
Jackson9894
Tallapoosa85579
Chambers84138
Dale83424
Blount8004
Chilton7926
Butler76436
Coffee7616
Covington73520
Pike7097
Clarke6629
Barbour5755
Marion57424
Lowndes57224
Marengo55215
Hale47626
Bullock46411
Winston45311
Perry4424
Bibb4385
Wilcox42910
Monroe4214
Randolph40110
Pickens4009
Conecuh39310
Washington39112
Sumter36018
Lawrence3491
Macon33514
Crenshaw3185
Choctaw28312
Cherokee2737
Henry2633
Geneva2611
Clay2585
Greene25111
Lamar2222
Fayette2075
Cleburne1271
Coosa1012
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