NEW ORLEANSA court in New Orleans is scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday on whether Mississippi can permanently disenfranchise people who have served time for certain crimes, including some non-violent crimes.
The ruling by the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals will likely determine whether tens of thousands of people regain the right to vote. It is not expected to be immediate.
Criminal justice activists scored a major victory in August when a three-judge panel of the court ruled that the permanent removal of voting rights violated the constitution’s provision banning “cruel and unusual” punishment. . But the full court overturned the decision weeks later and called a hearing on Tuesday.
State attorneys maintain that the voting ban is a “non-punitive regulation” and that, even if it is, it is neither cruel nor unusual.
The 17 sitting judges will hear arguments along with two part-time judges who were members of the panel that ruled in August.
Under Mississippi’s constitution, people convicted of 10 felonies, including bribery, theft and arson, lose the right to vote. A former state attorney expanded the list to 22 crimes, including car theft.
To regain the right to vote, people convicted of any crimes must obtain a pardon from the governor or convince lawmakers to pass individual laws for them, which requires a two-thirds majority. Some of these laws have been approved in recent years and none in 2023.
“Mississippi is not typical of states in opposing a clear and consistent trend in our Nation against permanent disenfranchisement,” Justice James Dennis wrote in the August opinion, supported by Justice Carolyn Dineen King. Both were nominated by Democratic presidents: King by Jimmy Carter and Dennis by Bill Clinton.
The dissenting judge in the case was Edith Jones, nominated by Republican Ronald Reagan. His argument was based on a Supreme Court ruling that disenfranchising crimes fell on state legislatures.
SOURCE: With information from AP