Does The 15th Amendment Guarantee Ex-Felons The Right To Vote?

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According to the ACLU http://www.aclu.org/voting-rights/voter-disfranchisement some 5 MILLION ex-felons are prohibited by states from voting. And it should come as no surprise that the GOP is leading the charge to for felony disenfranchisement. Florida passed reforms in this area back in 2007 only to have them reversed by Rick Scott.

But does the 15th Amendment guarantee ex-felons this right?

The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870 was clearly designed to establish and protect the right of former slaves to vote. But does it do more? It reads:

1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

The condition of servitude can include voluntary servitude... such as indentured servants, or involuntary servitude. We know the term includes slavery, but do others fall into this category?

One might think that for the generation born after slaves were freed, this amendment has no further utility. But the term involuntary servitude is NOT limited to slavery. The 13th Amendment, also passed in 1870, makes clear that involuntary servitude can INCLUDE being imprisoned for a crime:

1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

It would seem that there's a stronger case for protecting the right of ex-felons to vote than for corporate personhood which is based in the 14th Amendment... which starts:

1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

As we SHOULD know... corporations can't be persons because they can't be born or naturalized.

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Pierpont
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Comments

There is a counterargument... stated here:

http://ratify.constitutioncenter.org/education/ForEducators/Viewpoints/F...

The Supreme Court recently reaffirmed in United States v. Lopez (1995) what is obvious from the text of the Constitution: “The Constitution creates a Federal Government of enumerated powers.” And no power exists for Congress to pass a law banning felon disenfranchisement by the states.

But the Constitution also fails to give the federal government the specific power to establish the right in states to vote for women or citizens starting at age 18. The 19th and 26th amendments CREATE that power. We're not talking about an ordinary law. The 15th Amendment, once ratified, became PART of the Constitution... and in the process created that new power.

Maybe some of our constitutional scholars can weigh in.

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Pierpont
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Feb. 29, 2012 2:19 pm

Your position is interesting. If the constitution does indeed give the notion of voting rights for felons, then the constitution needs to be changed.

micahjr34
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Feb. 7, 2011 4:57 pm
Quote micahjr34:

Your position is interesting. If the constitution does indeed give the notion of voting rights for felons, then the constitution needs to be changed.

I wasn't referring to felons still incarcerated... but those who paid their "debt to society" and were now free.

Not sure what your position is... that some citizens should be deprived of this right to vote... or not. If yes, then that might be the way the courts are ruling. If no... then the 15th already gives ex-felons the right to vote. But it's not as if court rulings... even from the USSC... are definitive. After all, they created a new individual right to own a gun from the Second Amendment which clearly is about the federally controlled, well-regulated militia... not the individual right to self-defense. On the other hand... the far right wingers on the USSC refuse to see that the all-inclusive Ninth Amendment has any meaning.

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Pierpont,

Just to let you know, my position is that felons should not be allowed to vote for a certain amount of time after they leave prison, and then be allowed to vote again after. To me, this period of time could be considered one of rehabilitation.

micahjr34
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Feb. 7, 2011 4:57 pm

Last I knew, it was up to the states. I believe that some states allow ex-felons to vote and some don't.

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Bush_Wacker
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Quote micahjr34:

Pierpont,

Just to let you know, my position is that felons should not be allowed to vote for a certain amount of time after they leave prison, and then be allowed to vote again after. To me, this period of time could be considered one of rehabilitation.

And just what should this period of time be? And what is the rationale? Isn't rejoining civic life a useful aspect of rehabilitation?

My own feeling is those convicted and who have served their time... and yes some are despicable human beings but some are felons for victimless crimes and, as we know from the Innocence Projects, not all convicted have actually be guilty. There is prosecutorial misconduct. Ex-felons all have a unique views of aspects of government behavior regarding law enforcement and rehabilitation and those views need to be heard via the feedback mechanism of elections. To say otherwise is like saying farmers have no right to vote when they are subject to government policies that can harm or benefit them... even if they use that vote looking for the gravy train, or women have should have no say on matters of birth control or the right to choose. Now will all their votes be socially responsible? No. Sex offenders might vote for loosing of those laws. But like all outliers they will be easily outvoted. My last reason is simply because ex-felons will pay taxes on some level or another... and every citizen should have the right to register their opinions on this matter.

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Pierpont,

Excellent, excellent response! What I said certainly left out many relevant issues. I admire how you can fit "a mountain of truth into a grain of sand," so to speak. I do not agree with everything you say, but I think that you are a better commentator than I am.

When it comes to how long this "period of rehabilitation" should be, I would say one year for nonviolent felonies, three years for violent felonies, and six for sex related felonies. This may seem arbitrary, but I think that it is fair. If you would like to comment, I would like to hear it.

micahjr34
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Feb. 7, 2011 4:57 pm
Quote Bush_Wacker:

Last I knew, it was up to the states. I believe that some states allow ex-felons to vote and some don't.

And that's the heart of the issue I was raising. Does the 15th Amendment override state rights on this issue? On its face if does... whether its intent was to include ex-felons... that's another matter. But the language is pretty clear the 15th makes NO effort to exclude ex-felons. And in that sense there's a better case for their right to vote than corporate personhood or a personal right to self-protection in the 2ed. I believe that right is covered by the Ninth... but both parties... but especially the GOP, want to sweep the Ninth under the carpet. Those two examples, by the way, are proof the Right has no respect for the Constitution except for those parts that further their agenda... and see the rest as Silly Putty to be molded to support their agenda. But then politics requires both Parties have to give lip service to God, Flag and Constitution. What's nauseating about this is the GOP pretends they have a monopoly on respecting all of the above.

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Quote micahjr34:

Pierpont,

Excellent, excellent response! What I said certainly left out many relevant issues. I admire how you can fit "a mountain of truth into a grain of sand," so to speak. I do not agree with everything you say, but I think that you are a better commentator than I am.

When it comes to how long this "period of rehabilitation" should be, I would say one year for nonviolent felonies, three years for violent felonies, and six for sex related felonies. This may seem arbitrary, but I think that it is fair. If you would like to comment, I would like to hear it.

Thanks for the kind words... but I'm just thinking this through as a I go. My feeling is when someone has served their time... that should be sufficient. Not sure I want those still in prison to vote... but I go back and forth on that... because as I said before, they, as citizens, should have some feedback into the behavior of government. But then I think of the violent predators and sociopaths in for life and that gives me pause. Also the wording of the 15th seems to only cover those NOT now in involuntary servitude:

"The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."

The language seems to leave open the possibility that those still in servitude... and this is still permitted for crimes, are not covered.

Another consideration is if one Party feels it gets an political advantage from ex-felon disenfranchisement... then that cynical strategy should NOT be rewarded. And this might explain why the Right seems to support these laws. A side issue is whether unreasonable laws are passed HOPING to incarcerate more people. For instance I've read the private prison industry does this... and often has in their contracts with the respective state requirements for prison occupation. We saw the owners of youth boot camps bribe a judge to convict more kids. We have to be wary of any perverse incentives we inadvertently create... both monetary AND political.

As we've seen with the voter ID laws coming from the GOP... such voter suppression laws ALWAYS are presented as respectable and reasonable measures to solve a problem... even if that problem doesn't exist. No one can get public support for such measures unless marketed as a noble effort. Faux reasonableness is just another refuge of scoundrels .

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Feb. 29, 2012 2:19 pm

As long as I have a thread up on the 13th Amendment, here's a bump to an old topic... the 14th and 15th Amendments.

Maybe someone has some new thoughts to add.

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Feb. 29, 2012 2:19 pm

As a libertarian, my position is that once someone gets out of prison, all of their rights, both natural and political, should be restored.

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Quote LysanderSpooner:

As a libertarian, my position is that once someone gets out of prison, all of their rights, both natural and political, should be restored.

I agree. I see the 14th and 15th amendments as overiding the 10th.

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Imprisonment upon conviction of a criminal offense is not "involuntary servitude."

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stuff
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Quote stuff:

Imprisonment upon conviction of a criminal offense is not "involuntary servitude."

Sure it is.... "1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

Punishment for a crime can be involuntary servitude... unless you're saying the punishment for a crime is slavery?


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Conviction for criminal offenses are not involuntary servitude within the meaning of the Thirteenth Amendment.

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Quote stuff:

Conviction for criminal offenses are not involuntary servitude within the meaning of the Thirteenth Amendment.

I post it again... 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

We KNOW slavery isn't a function of government at least in the US. It was a private sector activity protected by government.

Involuntary servitude may include several types. We KNOW this because only one exception is made: punishment for a crime. It leaves open the possibility of otter forms of involuntary servitude which from then on are NOT permitted.

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Feb. 29, 2012 2:19 pm

Since we agree that the government may incarcerate individuals for conviction of criminal offenses, what has this to do with voting rights?

Some states allow ex-felons to vote and others don't. Some states allow ex-felon to recover their civil rights and others don't. States may also deny voting rights to those who do not meet reaonable residency requirements and the mentally infirm.

For someone who opposes the Constitution, you seem to be a stickler about Constitutional technicalities.

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stuff
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duplicate... removed by author

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Quote stuff:

Since we agree that the government may incarcerate individuals for conviction of criminal offenses, what has this to do with voting rights?

Some states allow ex-felons to vote and others don't. Some states allow ex-felon to recover their civil rights and others don't. States may also deny voting rights to those who do not meet reaonable residency requirements and the mentally infirm.

For someone who opposes the Constitution, you seem to be a stickler about Constitutional technicalities.

Did you even read my first post? Apparently not for comprehension. I explained everything there.

As for technicalities, I may prefer football to baseball but doesn't mean I can't argue with the umpire. Whether I like it or not... the Constitution IS the law and any citizen subject to it has a right to debate its intent or desirability.

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Quote Pierpont:
Quote LysanderSpooner:

As a libertarian, my position is that once someone gets out of prison, all of their rights, both natural and political, should be restored.

I agree. I see the 14th and 15th amendments as overiding the 10th.

Not so fast. Assuming that the 14th and 15th were properly ratified, and they weren't, they would totally override the 10th.

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Quote LysanderSpooner:
Quote Pierpont:
Quote LysanderSpooner:

As a libertarian, my position is that once someone gets out of prison, all of their rights, both natural and political, should be restored.

I agree. I see the 14th and 15th amendments as overiding the 10th.

Not so fast. Assuming that the 14th and 15th were properly ratified, and they weren't, they would totally override the 10th.

Gee... and nothing about the 13th and 16th? ROTF

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If ex-felons aren't allowed to vote and have no skin in the game-why should they follow laws created by a system they cannot participate in?

DynoDon
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Jun. 29, 2012 10:24 am
Quote DynoDon:

If ex-felons aren't allowed to vote and have no skin in the game-why should they follow laws created by a system they cannot participate in?

Or... who knows better if there are problems with law enforcement, the courts, or the jail system than someone who has to deal with them? And what about paying taxes without representation?

Of course if the 15th bans disenfranchisement... then all the good reasons don't matter.

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Feb. 29, 2012 2:19 pm

Can it be... that there have only been TWO threads in this forum about the 15th Amendment and one had no responses? http://www.thomhartmann.com/forum/2014/04/voting-rights

Maybe it's time to resurrect this thread. Maybe someone has some new insights.

And it beats the 400th debate on the minimum wage.

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Jul. 31, 2007 4:01 pm

Since Thom is talking about felon disenfranchisement... maybe this thread should be pushed up.

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ulTRAX
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We found something we agree on!

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In my opinion, it is absurd to say felons cannot vote. Of all people in this country who need the right to vote, it would be our felons. Given the current recitivism rate, their ability to have representation in government is very important.

It is also my opinion that these individuals, and based upon the wording of the Constitution, should be allowed to vote WHILE they are in prison. It should also be a requirement of the prisons to allow them to receive the proper news cycle on a daily basis in order for them to make a more informed decision about who to vote for.

Prisoners are still granted Constitutional rights while imprisoned. There is no excuse to remove their ability to vote; it is absurd.

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1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime

I wouldn't say that "imprisoned" is synonymous with "involuntary servitude" so does this suggest that prisoners may be used as slaves? Free labor?

chilidog
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Quote chilidog:

1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime

I wouldn't say that "imprisoned" is synonymous with "involuntary servitude" so does this suggest that prisoners may be used as slaves? Free labor?

You didn't read the first post, did you? The argument I'm making takes in both the 13th and 15th.

13th reads that involuntary servitude CAN MEAN imprisonment. Slavery and involuntary servitude are different even if slavery is a form of involuntary servitude.

The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870 was clearly designed to establish and protect the right of former slaves to vote. But does it do more? It reads:

1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

The condition of servitude can include voluntary servitude... such as indentured servants, or involuntary servitude.

We know the term includes slavery, but do others fall into this category?

One might think that for the generation born after slaves were freed, this amendment has no further utility. But the term involuntary servitude is NOT limited to slavery. The 13th Amendment, also passed in 1870, makes clear that involuntary servitude can INCLUDE being imprisoned for a crime:

1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

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