Louisiana Record

Monday, October 14, 2019

Law restricting felons from office expected to go back on La. ballot

By Mike Helenthal | Jun 3, 2016

NEW ORLEANS -- A voter-approved Constitutional amendment barring felons from running for state and local office for 15 years was again struck down by the Louisiana Supreme Court in May, but the amendment is expected to rise again.

Marjorie Esman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in New Orleans, said the legislature already is working to correct wording in the amendment and get it back on the ballot for a statewide vote.

“I guarantee you, the error has been corrected, and it will be back on the ballot,” she told the Louisiana Record.

The wording in one of the amendment’s provisions, passed by voters in 1997, was the basis for the challenge by a convicted felon who had been disqualified from running for the District 87 state House seat in 2015.

The argument was that the intended legislative wording did not match the final ballot wording. The Supreme Court agreed, striking down the law in January and reaffirming that decision in May.

Despite the law being struck down, Esman said it’s hard to celebrate it as a victory knowing that the legislature will resubmit the amendment, and voters will likely follow the same course they did last time and approve it.

Esman said the law is unjust because it disenfranchises convicted felons and further disconnects them from society, while adding an additional level of punishment after they have served their required time in prison.

“Their citizen rights ought to be fully restored to what they had before,” she said. “They should be allowed to contribute.”

She said it’s more than a felons’ rights at issue – the amendment also would take valid choices away from the state’s voting citizens. She government should not be able to restrict who runs for public office.

“This is definitely a voting rights issue,” she said. “A voter should have the right to make that choice.”

When asked if the ACLU might challenge any new amendment, Esman would not say.

"I can't tell you what we'll do," she said. "We don’t announce our plans publicly."

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Organizations in this Story

American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Louisiana Louisiana Supreme Court