‘There is no question that the U.S. Constitution expressly approves of the right of a State to disenfranchise felons—including permanently…’
(Liberty Headlines) With Democratic efforts to flip states like Virginia, Kentucky and Louisiana having recently borne political fruit, the Left has set its sights on one of the most ambitious targets of all: Mississippi.
Considered to be among the deepest red of Southern states, along with neighboring Alabama, the Magnolia State already faced one legal challenge.
Just days before its recent gubernatorial election in November, a group backed by former Attorney General Eric Holder sought to overturn its century-old law governing how statewide candidates are elected.
Activists claimed the law—which empowers the state legislature select a candidate if nobody wins both the popular majority and the majority of districts—was a civil rights violation.
A federal judge, however, declined to issue an injunction on the election while the case was being heard.
Now, following similar efforts in other battleground states, activists are eyeing a new tactic to secure political majorities through the courts instead of the ballot boxes by overturning restrictions of felon voting rights.
The man at the center of a Mississippi case claimed 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 radical leftist 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.
Some Democratic presidential candidates and left-wing congressional figures also have gotten behind the idea, including Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who has said he would advocate allowing incarcerated felons to vote from jail.
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.
Even so, the activist strategy has been part of a multi-pronged strategy to gain Democratic electoral majorities by any means necessary.
In Virginia, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe disregarded a state Supreme Court decision that deemed his effort to issue mass pardons unconstitutional and continued to issue them, resulting in a convicted pedophile running for office in at least one instance.
McAuliffe’s Democratic successor, Ralph Northam, has continued the tradition, which helped the state legislature gain blue majorities in both chambers for the first time in two decades this November.
In Florida, a group backed by leftist mega-donor George Soros succeeded in securing the passage of a ballot referendum that would have added millions of new felonious Democratic voters as the state routinely faces razor-thin margins in major elections.
However, newly-elected Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis was able to thwart the measure to an extend by declaring that in order for felons to be eligible to have voting rights restored they must be in good standing, having met all parole requirements and paid all debts to the state.
Democrats again challenged DeSantis’s executive order as unfair.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press