Polk County District Court Chief Judge Arthur Gamble on Monday dismissed a lawsuit that challenged Iowa’s restrictions on felon voting and procedure for regaining voting rights after a felony conviction. Kelli Jo Griffin filed the lawsuit last November, having previously been acquitted on perjury charges related to registering to vote and casting a ballot in a local election. Griffin did not realize she was ineligible to vote because of a prior drug conviction. The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa is representing her in the case, which claims Iowa law and an executive order Governor Terry Branstad issued in January 2011 unconstitutionally restrict the plaintiff’s fundamental right to vote.
A plurality of three Iowa Supreme Court justices indicated last April that they do not believe all felonies rise to the level of “infamous crimes,” which under the Iowa Constitution justify revoking citizenship rights. But that opinion did not strike down current Iowa law, which holds that any felony conviction leads to the loss of voting rights. Chief Judge Gamble noted in his ruling that he is bound by precedent on felon voting cases “until a majority of the Iowa Supreme Court” rules otherwise.
The chief judge also determined that Branstad’s executive order does not unconstitutionally restrict Griffin’s voting rights, because the paperwork and fees required are “not an unreasonable burden for a felon to shoulder.” His conclusions don’t acknowledge certain realities about the arduous process Branstad established, which “made Iowa one of the most difficult states in the nation for felons who want to vote” and create more hurdles for low-income Iowans than for those with financial resources. I enclose more thoughts on that angle below, after excerpts from Gamble’s ruling.
The ACLU will appeal the District Court’s decision to the Iowa Supreme Court. Ever since an unlikely chain of events opened the door for the high court to re-examine felon voting rights, it’s been obvious some non-violent offender like Griffin would bring a test case resembling this one. The big question now is whether Justice Brent Appel, who recused himself from last year’s related case, will align with his three colleagues who appear ready to declare that certain felonies are not “infamous crimes.”Continue Reading...