VOTE v. Louisiana, a Case Filed by People on Probation or Parole Demanding their Right to Vote, Will Move Closer to Victory as Plaintiffs Prepare to Take Fight to Louisiana Supreme Court and the Legislature
Baton Rouge – Today, the Louisiana Court of Appeal for the First Circuit affirmed dismissal of litigation in VOTE v. Louisiana, which challenges the constitutionality of a law barring voting by people on probation and parole. In doing so, the appellate court repeats the mistake made by lower courts that the plaintiffs, Voice of the Experienced (VOTE), hope to rectify once and for all in the Louisiana Supreme Court.
“From the very beginning, we felt this case belonged in the Louisiana Supreme Court,” said Norris Henderson, Executive Director of Voice of the Experienced (VOTE). “The judges seeing this case so far are upholding a law that we know is unconstitutional. The Louisiana Supreme Court is best positioned to right this wrong. They can proclaim once and for all that the Louisiana Constitution guarantees the right to vote, a vote can only be suspended during, not after, incarceration. For VOTE members, that day cannot come soon enough. We are human beings who have done everything that’s been asked of us. The state needs to make good on the promise of the right to vote we have based on the Constitution.”
In a March 2017 ruling granting summary judgment to the state in VOTE v. Louisiana, 19th Judicial District Judge Tim Kelley said that, even though he was ruling against plaintiffs, he thought this was unfair. VOTE appealed the ruling to the First Circuit Court of Appeal, arguing that the Constitution explicitly guarantees the right to vote to all people who are not “under an order of imprisonment,” including those on probation and parole. The First Circuit’s decision today, which rejects this interpretation, paves the way for an appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court.
The Court’s opinion defers to enactments of the legislature, which is currently considering HB 265, a bill that would restore voting rights sooner. VOTE is supporting this legislative change. It passed out of a committee in the House of Representatives last week on a 7-2 vote and could face a vote on the House floor early next week.
“This coming week, elected officials have the opportunity to stand on the side of the right to vote,” said Bruce Reilly, Deputy Director of VOTE. “Bills like HB 265, which would allow people on parole and probation to regain their voting rights sooner, will be voted on. Louisiana has the highest rate of incarceration nationwide and the highest numbers of families directly impacted by criminal convictions. Passing HB 265 would open the doors of democracy to parolees and probationers who have been out of prison for five or more years. Whether it’s the courts recognizing our right to vote – as stated in the constitution – or the legislature making clear its intentions, VOTE will keep fighting all the way to victory.”
“The court’s decision today is a blow to our democracy,” said Judith Browne Dianis, Executive Director of Advancement Project’s national office. “People should be given second chances, maintain their political voice and the opportunity to choose those who represents them. Across the country, we are seeing broad, sweeping criminal justice reform while leaving the voting rights of impacted people behind bars. People on probation and parole should have their right to vote restored. VOTE, an organization that was dreamt of behind bars in the heart of the world’s incarceration capital, embodies how grassroots community work can flip that narrative. From Angola to the streets, to the State Supreme Court this is how change is made.”
The claim to the right to vote made by VOTE v. Louisiana enjoys overwhelming support from influential voices who have filed amicus briefs in the case. Legal scholars from every law school in Louisiana have expressed their support for the merits of the lawsuit. Historians from Louisiana support VOTE, and have added incisive historical analysis showing that recognizing the right to vote is long overdue. Importantly, the American Probation and Parole Association, which represents 700 probation and parole officers in Louisiana alone, is strongly in favor of recognizing the right to vote as claimed by VOTE. Whalen Gibbs, a longtime Louisiana public servant, probation officer, and a former assistant secretary with the Louisiana Department of Corrections who oversaw reentry work, publicly expressed his support through an op-ed in the Times-Picayune. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), The Sentencing Project and the Southern Poverty Law Center have supported the case with important racial, historical and legal context that cannot be separated from what this case means to the community.
For key legal documents and pleadings on VOTE v. Louisiana, visit https://advancementproject.org/campaigns/right-vote-louisiana/.
Through VOTE v. Louisiana, VOTE seeks to affirm the right to vote for more than 70,000 people who are not incarcerated, but living under community supervision (i.e. probation and parole) as our neighbors, family members, and co-workers.
Louisiana denies the right to vote to people behind bars. It also bars from voting 40,000 people on probation, along with 30,000 citizens who have returned to their communities on parole. Each year, thousands of people are removed from this list while thousands more take their place, as Louisiana has more police and prisons per capita than anywhere in the nation.
For more from Advancement Project’s Right to Vote Initiative, visit www.nationalrighttovote.org.
Advancement Project is a multi-racial civil rights organization. Founded by a team of veteran civil rights lawyers in 1999, Advancement Project was created to develop and inspire community-based solutions based on the same high quality legal analysis and public education campaigns that produced the landmark civil rights victories of earlier eras.