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Court Backs Tennessee in Felon Voting Rights Case

(CN) - The 6th Circuit upheld a Tennessee law requiring convicted felons who have served their time in prison to pay all restitution and child-support obligations before they can vote again.

"Certainly, Tennessee possess valid interests in promoting payment of child support, requiring criminals to fulfill their sentences, and encouraging compliance with court orders," Judge Cook wrote for the 2-1 majority.

Cook said the challenged conditions of re-enfranchisement "bear, at a minimum, a direct and rational relationship to the advancement of those interests."

Three convicted felons in Tennessee said the state violated their constitutional rights by forcing them to pay restitution and child support in order to have their voting rights restored, even if they lacked the money to do so.

In a 38-page dissent, Judge Karen Nelson Moore said the law discriminates against indigent felons and favors the wealthy.

"It is undisputable that the plaintiffs are now unable to access the ballot box simply because they are too poor to pay," she wrote.

"Simply put, Tennessee has no rational basis for denying voting rights to only those felons with outstanding financial obligations, despite their inability to pay."

The majority responded that it's up to lawmakers to draft a more equitable re-enfranchisement system for convicted felons.

"While the dissent would prefer that the state not discriminate on the basis of wealth when providing statutory benefits, this is an argument that must be resolved by the Legislature, not this court," Cook wrote.

The Cincinnati-based federal appeals court upheld U.S. District Judge Thomas Wiseman Jr.'s "well-reasoned" ruling for the state.

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