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June 24, 2014

Others starting to appreciate "Rand Paul, Criminal Justice Hero"

I am very pleased to see this new Slate commentary by Emily Bazelon headlined "Rand Paul, Criminal Justice Hero: The senator from Kentucky wants to give ex-felons the vote even though they won’t vote Republican." The piece not only highlights the credit Senator Paul should be given for his principled approach to criminal justice reform, it also demonstrates why right now he is arguably the most important active criminal justice reformer in the nation.  Here are excerpts:

When libertarian Republicans go on about the “tyranny” of the federal government, as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is prone to do, I tune out. But not today. Paul has been talking for a while about how his conception of tyranny extends to long, draconian prison sentences for mostly poor and black offenders. Now he is introducing a bill that would restore voting rights to nonviolent ex-felons in federal elections. This bill is not about to become law any time soon. But give Paul credit for standing on principle even though he and his party would hardly benefit.

If Congress really re-enfranchised ex-cons across the land, it would help Democrats. It would probably be enough to swing a close Senate race in some states—or to push Florida into the D column in a presidential election. In 2010, according to this policy brief by the Sentencing Project, 5.85 million people across the country couldn’t vote because they were either in prison or had a felony record (which in 12 states also disqualifies you at the polls)....

To state the obvious, if these ex-cons voted, they would break for Democrats. “African-American voters are wildly overrepresented in criminal justice populations. African-American voters also historically favor Democratic candidates,” says Christopher Uggen, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota. Uggen and Jeff Manza co-wrote an article for the American Sociological Review in 2002 in which they estimated turnout for disenfranchised ex-cons....

o why is Paul pushing for a bill that could actively hurt his party? “Even if Republicans don’t get more votes, we feel like we’ve done the right thing,” Paul told Politico. This sounds like Paul’s (qualified) support for immigration reform: He’s behind it even though in the short-term, it’s probably a loser for Republicans. I don’t mean to sound naive here about Paul’s motives. He sometimes cultivates renegade Tea Party independence, and I realize that he is also appealing to swing voters: moderates who like it when conservative politicians sound concerned about poor people and minorities. And maybe that’s good for the image of the Republican party overall: Rand Paul, softening agent. Uggen says he did a poll a few years ago and found resounding majority support for letting ex-felons vote. But how many of those people care enough about the issue to vote for Paul based on it? That number has to be tiny. And while it’s possible to argue that Republicans have to move toward immigration reform for their long-term survival, given the rising Latino population and the shrinking white one, felon disenfranchisement just doesn’t have the same grip....

It’s worth pointing out, though, that Paul is the sole sponsor for his bill. In Florida in 2011, Republican Gov. Rick Scott went the other way and tightened voting restrictions on former felons, in spite of criticism about the number of black people he was barring from the polls. Paul has more company from fellow libertarians Ted Cruz and Mike Lee in pushing for sentencing reform. This is the larger fight that felon disenfranchisement is a part of: addressing mass incarceration by lowering or eliminating mandatory minimum sentences, especially for nonviolent drug offenders. “I’m talking about making the criminal justice system fair and giving people a second chance if they served their time,” Paul said in February at a gala for the conservative American Principles Project. Give him, and Cruz and Lee, credit for being part of this push. Sentencing reform has justice on its side and budgetary common sense, too, given the huge sums it takes to keep prisoners locked up for years. Too bad other Republicans won’t support that cause, or go for giving former felons the vote either.

June 24, 2014 at 10:31 AM | Permalink


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Congress does not have the power to "re-enfranchised ex-cons across the land." What Paul proposes is unconstitutional.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jun 24, 2014 2:10:00 PM

In the long run, as a whole, this sort of thing will attract more people to the party, especially swing voters. It might hurt them in certain cases, but writ large, maybe not.

His bill regards federal elections. The 26A was passed after Congress held those over 18 have a right to vote in both state and federal election & the USSC struck down the former. But, it UPHELD the right to give those 18 and over the right to vote in federal elections. Various ways can get you there.


Posted by: Joe | Jun 24, 2014 6:17:24 PM

Thanks for the good information Joe.

Posted by: beth | Jun 24, 2014 9:12:38 PM

Fairness aside, most felons will vote for the Democratic party. Rand Paul has spent too much time in Washington. He wants to seem pious, but is self defeating.

One acculturates to the environment, no matter how alien or sicko. Move to Iran, everyone will begin to think and become Iranian, even if one came from Israel, and hates the Iranians.

Rand Paul is a doctor, not a lawyer. I have not addressed the medical profession. Take the problems of the lawyer profession, multiply by two, you have some idea about doctors. Unfortunately and they are smarter and crazier. The subject of their problems is too big even for the Supremacy.

Rand Paul, silly, self-defeating, a turncoat. Dismiss his views as invalid and harmful to the nation.

The best situation for the public good is gridlock, so only really good ideas get adopted. Any change disturbing the balance between the parties will harm the public.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 25, 2014 12:19:58 AM

Supremacy Clause : Spoken like a true hack.

Posted by: That lawyer dude | Jun 25, 2014 12:37:51 AM

That Lawyer: Have you spent more than tourism time in the Washington DC area? You would get acculturated to that sick homosexual, rent seeking, PC,feminist, lawyer gotcha culture(never attack substantive views head on, find a violation of the infinite number of rules to go after adversaries), leave all prior values behind. Move the God fearing guy from the Duck Dynasty to DC. Check him out after a year, completely changed.

I have proposed as one of many measures to improve the Supreme Court, moving it to the middle of the nation, such as Wichita, Kansas. So Scalia, Roberts, not real conservatives any more, just self centered rent seekers now, as bad a Stevens or worse because they posed as conservatives. Stevens was honest about his views.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 25, 2014 4:47:38 AM


The 14th Amendment is quite clear (emphasis mine): "But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, EXCEPT FOR PARTICIPATION IN REBELLION OR OTHER CRIME, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State."

"(c) Arizona is correct that the Elections Clause empowers Congress to regulate how federal elections are held, but not who may vote in them. The latter is the province of the States."


Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jun 25, 2014 11:02:38 AM

The provision in question sets up, this is all, a never used penalty (that according to one lower court opinion is not self-executing) to states that restrict voting rights in a certain way. Read the whole thing -- in such and such cases (no others) "the basis of representation therein shall be reduced." Rand Paul's bill is not to my understanding about reducing representation of state delegations that violate its tenets.

The article cited provides multiple approaches to get where Paul wants to go. I also am unaware that Oregon v. Mitchell (sec. 2 of the 14A notwithstanding, "Congress can fix the age of voters in national elections, such as congressional, senatorial, vice-presidential [p118] and presidential elections,") was overruled.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 25, 2014 11:33:59 AM

ETA: There is an USSC ruling that says felony disenfranchisement laws w/o otherwise illegitimate discriminatory intent do not violate the 14A.

I find the dissent there convincing. Regardless, this does not mean, like in Oregon v. Mitchell, Congress lacks power, at least in federal elections (cf. RFRA, where a federal law regarding religion was struck down as overbroad as applied to states), to legislate in this fashion.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 25, 2014 12:39:49 PM

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