Law School Case Brief
Richardson v. Ramirez - 418 U.S. 24, 94 S. Ct. 2655, 41 L. Ed. 2d 551, 1974 U.S. LEXIS 84, 72 Ohio Op. 2d 232
Cal. Const. art. XX, § 11 excludes from voting persons convicted of bribery, perjury, forgery, malfeasance in office, "or other high crimes." Cal. Elec. Code §§ 383, 389, 390 direct the county clerk to cancel the registration of all voters who have been convicted of any infamous crime or of the embezzlement or misappropriation of any public money. Cal. Elec. Code §§ 14240, 14246 permit a voter's qualifications to be challenged on those grounds. California provides for restoration of the right to vote to persons convicted of crime either by court order after the completion of probation or, if a prison term was served, by executive pardon, along with judicial review of disqualification.
Petitioner county clerk sought review from a judgment of the Supreme Court of California, that declared that respondents were entitled to voting rights despite their status as ex-convicts, because state laws disenfranchising felons violated the Equal Protection Clause of U.S. Const. amend. XIV. A state court declaratory judgment granting felons voting rights as a matter of equal protection was reversed and remanded because U.S. Const. amend. XIV did not prevent exclusion of felons from voting. Respondents, three individuals, who were prevented from registering to vote because of their past criminal records, sued for a writ of mandate to compel their registration. The state supreme court held that laws disenfranchising felons were unenforceable because they violated the Equal Protection Clause of U.S. Const. amend. XIV. On appeal, the issue was found justiciable. Respondents had brought the action on behalf of others similarly situated, even though they had since been permitted to register to vote.
Is it constitutional for a state to disenfranchise ex-felons from voting?
The court ruled that a criminal record was a factor that a state could lawfully take into consideration in determining the qualifications of voters. Because U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 2, contained language suggesting that the practice of depriving felons of voting rights was acceptable, and because this practice was historically viewed as valid, respondents were not entitled to register as voters under the Equal Protection Clause of U.S. Const. amend. XIV.
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