Voting Rights Case Filed in California Supreme Court
Three organizations concerned with civil rights and civic participation are asking the California Supreme Court to clarify and protect the voting rights of 85,000 Californians before the October 22, 2012 voter registration deadline.
In March, All of Us or None, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and the League of Women Voters of California filed a petition in the First District Court of Appeal arguing that people who have been sentenced for low-level, non-violent offenses since realignment took effect in California have the right to vote in the 2012 elections and beyond. The lawsuit was prompted by a December 2011 memorandum issued by Secretary of State Debra Bowen to local elections officials barring people sentenced to county jail or supervision for low-level felonies after realignment from voting.
On May 17, the Court of Appeal summarily denied the petition, meaning that it refused to hear the case or issue an opinion. Petitioners are now asking the California Supreme Court to review the case which affects the voting rights of more than 85,000 Californians. Petitioners request the court to hear and decide the case on an expedited basis, as it has been fully briefed, so that people may register before the Oct. 22 deadline.
The Court has discretion either to hear the case, order the Court of Appeal to decide it, or deny review. An order is expected in the next few months.
Until the litigation is resolved, uncertainty will remain on the eligibility of many people serving sentences for felony convictions under realignment. However, it important to know that McPherson remains the law, and as the Secretary of State has acknowledged, clearly establishes that individuals convicted of a misdemeanor and individuals sentenced to felony probation retain the right to vote, even if confined in local jail.
Petitioners claim that excluding Californians with criminal convictions from voting violates the California Constitution and undermines a central purpose of realignment, which is to stop the state’s expensive revolving door of incarceration by successfully reintegrating individuals back into society.
The case is brought by the three organizations and an individual petitioner, a woman confined in San Francisco jail for a narcotics conviction who wishes to vote on issues of importance to her family.
Petitioners are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, Social Justice Law Project, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, A New Way of Life Reentry Project, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, and the Law Office of Robert Rubin.