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News Brief: Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Ballot Box

Former Richmond City Council member Sa’ad El-Amin could be back in the voting booth for this year’s Governor’s race. The irony is that this could frustrate his own efforts to ensure automatic rights restoration for felons in Virginia.

Federal District Judge John A. Gibney Jr. ordered a stay in the case of El-Amin v. Commonwealth of Virginia, holding off on deciding whether the convicted felon would have his voting rights restored, because of Governor Bob McDonnell’s announcement that he intends to restore voting rights to all non-violent felons in the state. (Full Disclosure: Two William & Mary Law School students, Kate Ward and Elderidge Nichols, under the supervision of Professor Rebecca Green, filed an amicus curiae brief in El-Amin’s case.) Continue reading

Equal Protection Challenge to Virginia’s Felony Disenfranchisement Provision Survives Summary Judgment

The US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Friday granted the State’s summary judgment motion on substantive and procedural due process challenges to Virginia’s voter reinstatement process for convicted felons, as well as an Eight Amendment challenge to the disenfranchisement of felons as cruel and unusual punishment. The court did, however, deny summary judgment on El-Amin’s Equal Protection challenge of lifetime felon disenfranchisement in Virginia.

Plaintiff Sa’ad El-Amin argues that Virginia’s felony disenfranchisement laws were enacted to discriminate against black citizens. Thus, despite the facially neutral language of Art. II, § 1 of the Virginia Constitution, El-Amin contends that the alleged discriminatory intent makes Virginia voter qualifications constitutionally deficient under the 14th Amendment.

The court’s opinion notes that previous challenges to felony disenfranchisement have not fared well in court; however, none of those cases entailed an inquiry into the specific historical events El-Amin argues support a discriminatory intent behind the laws. According to the court, while felony disenfranchisement is not constitutionally prohibited in the abstract, there is Supreme Court precedent for striking down specific States’ felony disenfranchisement provisions based upon discriminatory motivation for their adoption. El-Amin will have to prove that racial animus tainted the passage of felon disenfranchisement in Virginia—an uphill battle given that the laws were originally put on the books when only white men could vote in Virginia (i.e., could not have been targeted at denying blacks the vote). Still, Virginia’s troubled history of racial discrimination makes its felon disenfranchisement law—one of the most extreme in this country—a bitter legacy.

Two William & Mary Law students, Kate Ward ’13 and Elderidge Nichols ’13 wrote an amicus brief in the case.

I wasnt so much charmed by her as came to understand her better, somehow.

Montana to vote on Supreme Court justice elections

by Elderidge Nichols

On April 18, 2011, the Montana state legislature passed SB 268 which calls for a referendum vote to determine the future of elections for the Montana Supreme Court.  On June 5, 2012, on the 2012 Primary Election Ballot, voters in Montana will determine whether Montana will begin to elect Supreme Court justices by districts.

Although the Montana state senate passed SB 268 the Attorney General’s office and Secretary of State are statutorily obligated to approve of the language of the Statement of Purpose designed to explain the purpose of the referendum.  Andrew Huff, Assistant Attorney General of the state of Montana, passed along a copy of the accepted language. The Statement of Purpose reads:

The Montana Supreme Court is composed of seven justices, one of whom is Chief Justice. Under current law, the justices are elected statewide and each Montanan votes for all seven positions. LR-119 would change existing law so that each justice is elected from one of seven districts of approximately equal population, with the Chief Justice then chosen from the seven by majority vote of the justices. Only Montanans living in each district would vote for their district’s justice. Justices must reside in their district when initially elected. Continue reading

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