(CN) – The 9th Circuit on Thursday upheld an Arizona law barring convicted felons from voting. Felons said the state only restores voting rights to those who pay their fines and restitution after serving their time in jail — a practice that amounts to wealth discrimination.
In separate lawsuits, two groups of felons accused state officials of violating their equal protection rights by stripping them of the right to vote.
One group acknowledged that the 14th Amendment permits felon disenfranchisement, but argued that this sanction applies only to common-law felonies — murder, manslaughter, arson, burglary, robbery, rape sodomy, mayhem and larceny — not to other felonies not recognized under common law.
The other group challenged the state’s process for restoring voting rights to felons who served their jail time, claiming vote restoration has a price tag. Only felons who pay their criminal fines and restitution are eligible to vote again.
The district court granted the state’s motion to dismiss, and a three-judge panel in Tempe, Ariz., affirmed.
Writing for the panel, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor noted that felon disenfranchisement has been upheld by the nation’s highest court. She also rejected the notion that disenfranchisement only extends to felons convicted of certain types of crimes.
The panel similarly dismissed felons’ claims over the state’s process of restoring voting rights once sentences have been served.
“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,” O’Connor wrote.
“Just as states might reasonably conclude that perpetrators of serious crimes should not take part in electing government officials,” she added, “so too might it rationally conclude that only those who have satisfied their debts to society through fulfilling the terms of a criminal sentence are entitled to restoration of their voting rights.”