Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Fed-forced felon voting: another assault on the Constitution

While the Congressional "deem team" is trying to pass health care without actually voting on it, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) is attempting another end run around the Constitution by introducng H.R. 3335, the Democracy Restoration Act, which states in Sec 3:
The right of an individual who is a citizen of the United States to vote in any election for Federal office shall not be denied or abridged because that individual has been convicted of a criminal offense unless such individual is serving a felony sentence in a correctional institution or facility at the time of the election.
There's a basic problem with this legislation.  It is, on its face unconstitutional.  In his testimony yesterday before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Hans A. vonSpakovsky explained the conflict.  He paraphrases some of his arguments for the Heritage Foundation:
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. (emphasis added)

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.
VonSpakovsky also made some remarks at the Corner at NRO:
Most of you were probably too busy with real work to have watched Roger Clegg and me on the web yesterday as we testified before the House Judiciary Committee. We spoke against a bill that would purport to force all states to restore the right of a felon to vote the moment he is released from prison. It was certainly an illuminating experience. There were five witnesses on the other side versus the two of us, so I guess it was a fair debate. The venom of the attacks on Roger, however, was quite stunning. Rep. Steve Cohen (D., Tenn.) even attacked Roger for the name of the organization he represents, the Center for Equal Opportunity, because he is apparently offended that CEO does not believe in quotas and outright racial discrimination that favors certain racial groups.

It was also a real lesson in how contemptuous liberals are of the Constitution. Roger and I both pointed out that Congress cannot override a constitutional provision through legislation. The Fourteenth Amendment specifically gives the states the power to abridge the right to vote “for participation in rebellion, or other crime.” Article I and the 17th Amendment provide that voters for members of Congress shall have the same qualifications as voters for members of state legislatures, which explicitly gives the states the power to determine the qualifications of voters in federal elections. Congress obviously does not have the authority to abrogate that power unless it passes a constitutional amendment.
It's incredible that Rep. Conyers would not suffer at least a little bit of embarassment sponsoring an unconstitutional bill to benefit convicted felons after his wife pled guilty to taking bribes in her capacity as Detroit City Council president (a felony).  She has since had change of heart and has decided to try to overturn her own plea deal with the assistance of a taxpayer-funded public defender.  You see, Mrs. Conyers was determined to be indigent by a judge, despite the fact that her husband has been a member of the House of Representatives for 35 years and will pull down an enviable $174,000 in 2010.

VonSpakovsky concludes his post at the Corner with the following unsettling observation:
But the most revealing admission during the entire hearing was made by Representative Cohen. When confronted with our constitutional arguments, he said that if there is a constitutional problem, we just have to find a way to get around it. There seems to be a lot of that going on in the House of Representatives these days.

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