There seems to be an almost constant effort by some members of Congress to act unconstitutionally and to push through legislation that is beyond the enumerated powers given to Congress in Article I of the Constitution.
On Tuesday, I testified before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties about H.R. 3335, the Democracy Restoration Act. This bill, sponsored by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), would force states to immediately restore the voting rights of convicted felons in federal elections the moment they are out of prison – even if they are on parole or probation or have not completed any of the other requirements of their sentence such as paying restitution to the victims of their crimes or the fines and civil penalties imposed on them.
But the Fourteenth Amendment specifically gives states the ability to abridge the right to vote “for participation in rebellion, or other crime.” The Constitution also provides in Article I, Sec. 2 and in the Seventeenth Amendment that voters for members of Congress “shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.” So Congress is trying to overturn constitutional authority explicitly conferred on the states twice through legislation. This is just as unconstitutional as the attempt to give the District of Columbia a voting member of Congress or to force individual Americans to buy a health insurance policy.
Many states automatically restore the right to vote once a felon has completed his prison term. Others such as Virginia require an individual application that gives the state the ability to determine whether a felon has paid his debt to society and shown that he can be trusted to exercise the rights of full citizenship. Under this law, a terrorist like Sulayman al-Faris (i.e., John Walker Lindh) would be able to vote as soon as he is released from federal prison – so he will be able to participate in choosing the representatives of the government he wanted to help destroy.
What is particularly revealing about this bill is that it does not say anything about the other civil rights that a felon loses such as the right to own a gun or serve on a jury or in some states, to work as a public employee. Apparently, the sponsors trust felons enough to vote but not enough to own a gun or work as a teacher or a police officer. That is an interesting comment given that the “Findings” in the bill claim that such state felon laws “serve no compelling State interest.” I guess this legislation would serve one compelling interest for the sponsors – it might get them votes they need to win in close elections.