Government

Supreme Court affirms lifetime voting ban for felons

Justices vote 4-3 to maintain current law

The Supreme Court courtroom in the new Judicial Branch Building in Des Moines. (Gazette file photo)
The Supreme Court courtroom in the new Judicial Branch Building in Des Moines. (Gazette file photo)

DES MOINES — Iowa Supreme Court justices upheld the lifetime ban to vote for a person who commits an “infamous crime,” defined by the court as a felony.

The court in a 4-3 decision upholds what critics on Thursday said is one of the harshest felon voting laws in the nation.

“This is no way run a democracy,” Rita Bettis, ACLU of Iowa legal director, said in a statement following the ruling.

“Iowa remains of just one of three states that permanently banned all people with a felony conviction from voting. With this heartbreaking decision, Iowa remains one of just three states, along with Florida and Kentucky, that still impose permanent disenfranchisement.”

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said in a statement he applauded the court’s analysis finding felonies are infamous crimes and upholding the state constitution that felons lose their voting privileges.

“I agree with Chief Justice (Mark) Cady, who wrote that the term ‘infamous crime’ was generally recognized to include felonies at the time our Constitution was adopted, and that meaning has not sufficiently changed or evolved to give rise to a different meaning today,” Pate said.

The justices affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Pate and Lee County Auditor Fraise and dismissal of Kelli Jo Griffin’s claim.

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Attorneys for Griffin, a mother from Montrose who was convicted of a drug-related offense, argued before the court Wednesday to ease the tough laws that makes it difficult for offenders to get their voting rights restored.

In the case of Griffin her sentence for the drug-related felony had been discharged but later was determined to be ineligible to vote because she had not gone through an administrative process to get her rights restored.

However, attorneys representing Pate and county auditors argued that laws “draw lines everywhere” and felony convictions have become the dividing line for establishing voting rights in Iowa based on constitutional and case law.

In a dissenting opinion, Associate Justice Brent Appel said he doesn’t agree with the majority’s definition of infamous crime and he thinks Griffin has “has paid her debt to society.”

l Comments: (515) 243-7220, rod.boshart@thegazette.com; (319) 398-8318, trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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