The Franchise for Felons

Washington Times, May 29, 2009

{snip} [Supreme Court nominee Sonia] Sotomayor’s dissenting opinion in a 2006 felon-voting case should make senators extremely wary of confirming her for the high court.

In Hayden v. Pataki, a number of inmates in New York state filed suit claiming that because blacks and Latinos make up a disproportionate share of the prison population, the state’s refusal to allow them ballot access amounts to an unlawful, race-based denial of their right to vote. Eight of 13 judges on the liberal-leaning Second Circuit dismissed their arguments, and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled likewise in a similar case.

Yet, operating on a dubious and extremely broad reading of the Voting Rights Act, Ms. Sotomayor dissented from the decision. In a remarkably dismissive, four-paragraph opinion, she alleged that the “plain terms” of the Voting Rights Act would allow such race-based claims to go forward.

Judge Jose Cabranes, who like Ms. Sotomayor was appointed by President Bill Clinton, didn’t find the matter to be so clear. His majority decision against the criminal felons, in favor of the state, comprised 36 tightly reasoned pages. Particularly compelling is the fact that the Voting Rights Act was passed to help further the aims of the Constitution’s 14th and 15th Amendments. The 14th Amendment specifically allows states to deny the vote to those convicted of crimes.

Ms. Sotomayor is thus in the position of asserting that Congress can prohibit New York from doing something the Constitution itself specifically endorses. {snip}

As almost every state has done since the United States was founded, New York forbids currently incarcerated or paroled prisoners from voting. {snip}

{snip}

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