Back At Work

Why? Because that’s what manly men do. We don’t sit around at the hospital ooohing and ahhing over newborns, no matter how cute they are. No sir. We head back out into the jungle, to slay the wildebeests so that our family will have food to eat. Grhhhh. That’s what us men do. Until lunch anyway.

And, because some of you may read this blog for something other than information about me and mine, I will herein post some actual news.

It looks like I was right that Judge Vance’s decision about felon voting rights won’t change anything for this election. Here’s the story:

The Alabama Supreme Court has cleared the way for people who have been convicted of felonies such as DUI, attempted burglary and liquor law violations to register to vote.

In a 5-4 decision released Thursday, the court denied the state of Alabama’s request to stay a portion of Jefferson County Judge Robert Vance’s August ruling that allowed all felons to vote. The portion required the Secretary of State and Jefferson County’s registrar to stop refusing voter registration to people who have been convicted of crimes that do not involve moral turpitude.

What led to the case in the first place was that the registrars were denying ALL felons the right to vote. The problem with that is Alabama’s constitution prohibits from voting only those people convicted of crimes involving “moral turpitude.” That also means those whose crimes did not involve moral turpitude get to vote. So part one of the opinion ordered the registrars to allow the non-turpitudinous to vote.

But that led to the second part of the opinion. The legislature has never defined moral turpitude. The result has been ad hoc decisions made by local officials, the attorney general, and Alabama courts. Judge Vance wiped all of that out and held that until the legislature defined moral turpitude, all felons get to vote. This is the controversial part, and it appears that it will not go into effect.

So right now, the situation is status quo ante. Anyone who could vote under the old ad hoc system can vote now. Those who needed the second part of the decision cannot.

Update: In the comments, Lee 1) reminds me that the controversial part won’t go into effect because Judge Vance had stayed it; and 2) is kind enough to provide a link to the Court’s decision denying the stay.

Five Justices voted to deny it: See, Lyons, Harwood, Woodall and Parker.

Four voted to grant it: Nabors, Stuart, Smith, and Bolin.

The majority basically says that the order is nothing more than a command to do what the law already required: Allow felons to vote unless they’ve been convicted of a crime of moral turpitude.

Nevertheless, Justice Bolin would have granted the stay because he thinks the case has serious standing problems. Apparently the named plaintiffs were all non-moral turpitude felons and had all had been able to register to vote prior to the conclusion of the trial. So, the argument goes, they had no reason to complain about all felons being denied the vote, or even for they themselves being denied the vote.

Now that would certainly be a good reason to reverse, and I would not be surprised if that ends up being the actual reason for reversal, but it seems like a strange reason to stay an order that doesn’t do anything but enforce pre-existing law.

Justice Bolin is worried about confusion during the upcoming election, but if there is confusion, Judge Vance did not create it. Sure it would be easier for the registrars to deny all felons the right to vote, but Alabama law does not allow that. Alabama law allows felons to vote unless they’ve committed a crime of moral turpitude. Judge Vance told the registrars they have to follow the law; they can’t cut corners by simply denying all felons the vote. If the registrars have a hard time with that, they can blame Alabama law, not Judge Vance.

Explore posts in the same categories: Elections, Legal News

6 Comments on “Back At Work”

  1. […] UPDATE: Wheeler, who has much more legal knowledge than I do (damn law school graduates), chimes in on this. It appears that the Alabama Supreme Court simply said that only crimes that have been previously defined as involving moral turpitude can lose a felon his right to vote. This mean that the status quo is in effect, but it does clarify the status quo to  certain registrars who weren’t allowing any felons to vote, despite the severity of their crime. Filed under Elections, AL govt at work, Law and courts permalink :: email author :: no comments […]

  2. If the judge ruled that “until the legislature defined moral turpitude, all felons get to vote”, why would it not go into effect in this election cycle?

  3. Lee P Says:


    The NAACP Legal Defense Fund has posted the Supreme Court’s order online here:

    Also, the “second part” of Judge Vance’s decision was not at issue here, since Vance had already stayed that portion in his own court pending defendants’ appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court.

  4. Lee P Says:


    No prob. The news reports haven’t been very clear on this at all. I think it’s time for the Alabama Supreme Court to make its opinions available (for free) online.

    What do you think about whether the plaintiffs have standing, by the way?

  5. wheeler Says:

    i also wish they would make the opinions available for free. it would make everyone better informed. i keep saying i’m gonna start some kind of movement for it in the bar.

    as for standing, it’s hard to say because that is such an amorphous concept. on the one hand, justice bolin’s brief argument sounds very persuasive, but on the other, this sounds like one of those problems “capable of repetition but avoiding review.” still, this case has a ton of thorny issues, and bolin’s approach would be a great way to avoid them.

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