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Goddard Announces Successful Defense of Law Barring Felons from Voting

(Phoenix, Ariz. - May 27, 2010) Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard today announced that the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld Arizona’s law that precludes felons from regaining the right to vote until they complete all terms of their sentences.

The Ninth Circuit ruling concluded that Arizona’s law does not violate the constitutional rights of convicted felons. The decision was written by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who was appointed to join a three-member panel that included Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski and Judge Sandra Ikuta. Their ruling was unanimous.

Goddard commended the decision as “Important for the protection of crime victims and the rule of law.” He added, “Even first-time felons should not be restored with the right to vote until they have fully paid their debts to society and fully compensated their victims.”

In 2007 and 2008, two lawsuits were filed in federal court challenging Arizona’s laws under the federal and state constitutions and seeking to allow felons to have their right to vote restored more quickly. The plaintiffs argued that the laws violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Plaintiffs in the cases had served prison terms for felony convictions but had failed to pay criminal fines and restitution included in their sentences. They argued that Arizona’s requirement that they pay court-ordered restitution and fines before being restored the right to vote discriminates on the basis of wealth, impermissibly conditions the right to vote on the payment of a fee and violates other federal and state constitutional provisions. The lower courts dismissed the complaints, holding that the challenged laws were consistent with both U.S. and Arizona Constitutions.

The Ninth Circuit panel agreed. “We have little trouble concluding that Arizona has a rational basis for restoring voting rights only to those felons who have completed the terms of their sentences, which includes the payment of any fines or restitution orders,” the decision states.

Under the Arizona Constitution, first-time felons who have completed their prison terms and paid all fines or restitution ordered by the court will have their civil rights restored. Felons with more than one conviction have to make special application to the court for restoration of their rights.

This case was defended by Chief Deputy Attorney General Tim Nelson, Solicitor General Mary O’Grady and Assistant Attorneys General Barbara Bailey and Catherine Stewart. A copy of the ruling is attached.

For additional information, contact Molly Edwards at 602.542.8019.

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