November 14, 2005

Court lets stand law denying felons a vote

By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court let stand on
Monday a Florida law that generally bars convicted felons from
voting, even after they have completed their term of prison,
probation and parole.

The high court rejected an appeal which argued that the law
could be challenged under a section of the Voting Rights Act of
1965, which prohibits voter disqualification based on race.

Every state in the nation, except for Maine and Vermont,
prohibit, to one degree or another, felons from voting.
Fourteen states, including Florida, generally bar felons from
voting even after they have served their sentences and have
completed their terms of probation and parole.

Approximately 5 million felons who have been released from
prison are legally disenfranchised, civil rights experts have
estimated. About 1.4 million black men remain permanently

The appeal to the Supreme Court involved eight Florida
citizens who brought the class-action lawsuit on behalf of more
than 613,000 Florida felons who are barred from voting even
though they have completed their prison sentences and their
terms of probation or parole.

Under the law, felons are barred from voting for life
unless their civil rights have been restored by Florida's
Clemency Board. Attorneys who challenged the law said that
Florida, Alabama, Kentucky and Virginia were the only states
that disenfranchise first-time offenders for life.

The lawsuit challenged the law, which was initially adopted
in 1868 and revised 100 years later, for violating the Voting
Rights Act and for disproportionately disenfranchising blacks.

A federal appeals court upheld the law by a 10-2 vote.

Attorneys for those challenging the law appealed to the
Supreme Court. They said appeals courts around the country have
issued conflicting rulings on whether felony disenfranchisement
laws can be challenged under the Voting Rights Act.

"From the 1968 revision (of the law) to the present,
African-Americans have been disenfranchised because of felony
convictions at more than twice the rate of others," the lawyers
said. They said the law had been adopted in 1868 with the
discriminatory purpose of keeping blacks from voting.

Attorneys for the state said prohibitions on felons from
voting "is deeply rooted in the nation's history." They said
Congress did not intend to extend the Voting Rights Act to
felon disenfranchisement laws.

"It is unfathomable that Congress would intrude so deeply
into the sovereign right of every state to set qualifications
for voting and to establish punishments without leaving at
least some indication in the legislative record that it
intended such a radical result," they said.

The high court denied the appeal without any comment or
recorded dissent.