Counter-Proposal for Kevin Drum on Voting Rights

Kevin Drum argues that rules preventing voting in many states by felons are unfair.  After all, we don't deny them their first amendment rights for having been in prison, right?

Well, unlike Drum, I put voting further down the list of essentials for a free society, well behind property rights and the rule of law (see here and here).  If I wanted to get worked up about post-incarceration loss of rights, I would address the increasingly draconian post-incarceration restrictions on those convicted of even trivial "sex" crimes (treating 17 years olds that sent a nude selfie the same as a rapist).

However, let's talk voting.  Yes we do not deny ex-cons their first amendment rights.  But we do deny them their second amendment rights.  So I offer this compromise:

I propose this bipartisan compromise: Voting and gun ownership rights for convicted felons should be identical. Set them wherever you think is fair, but make them consistent. I am not sure this is really a very fair comparison -- after all, a politician can do a heck of a lot more damage than a gun -- but as I said, I am willing to compromise.

  • skhpcola

    Kevin Dumb is likely as concerned about 2d amendment issues as the leftist filth that he shills for constantly. That you are surprised by his desire for voting rights for a key D-bag constituency is unsurprising, since you apparently read every turd that his addled and atrophied brain produces. Instead, chalk it up to his reliably progressive ideological tilt...it's easier and saves time.

  • ErikTheRed

    I don't support any loss of rights for felons, for a very important reason: we are all multiple felons. Every single one of us. Even you. It's pretty much impossible to not be a felon, the average American commits three felonies a day, etc. So really the distinctions are "convicted felons" and "people who haven't been noticed by the system yet."

  • skhpcola

    Silverglate has a point, but committing felonies for which you aren't prosecuted and being convicted of a felony are two exponentially different things, your distinction being noted. Becoming a convicted felon doesn't happen in a vacuum: it takes a charge, a trial, a judge, and a jury. That's not to say that there's no such thing as an innocent convicted felon...but by the time the jury deliberates, decides, and appeals are exhausted, the evidence has been chewed and the lawyers have flogged a herd of horses.

    And, really, this is why we have federalism. There are states that do not restrict the rights of criminals to vote and there states that do. That's one of the bases of our system. Don't like it where you live? Elect people to change the law, or move someplace that better satisfies your preferences.

    I think that the better option is the one stated in Warrens original post. Quit selectively picking and choosing which rights are favored and which rights are lost...that just proves the bias.

    Too, do you really believe that Johnny "Jihad" Walker Lindh, Charles Manson, and other assorted miscreants and reprobates have a right to have a say in how this nation is governed? I don't. Not one goddamned whit. I'd go further and reinstate a poll tax or requirement that people can only vote if they pay--on a net basis--income taxes. Have some skin in the game before you contribute to the election of D-bags and RINOs that want more from me for busting my ass.

    I don't grok the Libertarian fetish about things like this. It's akin to being against the death penalty. Sorry, but some MFers need to be killed. If you want to debate the threshold of evidence, that's one thing. If you want to disregard video, eyewitness, and other evidence that proves guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt, then that's not debate, it's an ideological, irrational bias.

  • ModeratePoli

    What is the rationale for having voting rights and gun ownership rights be exactly the same? In what way is voting (unlikely to cause death or physical injury) similar to gun ownership? It seems like an unserious, offhand suggestion to me. So I reject it.

  • mlhouse

    Actually, the text of the 2nd Amendment specifies this. It states the the rights of "The People" cannot be infringed. "The People" is a very special term. It refers to those that established the Constitution, "We THE PEOPLE, in order to form a more perfect union, etc". And that specifies a specific subgroup of citizens that possess all political rights.

    Originally, women, free blacks and slaves were not part of "The People". They did not possess full political rights and they clearly did not have 2nd Amendment privileges. Times have changed, but even today not all citizens are part of "The People". If you don't believe me, ask your 17 year old who they voted for in the last election.

    Felons do not possess full political rights. We recognize that their crimes against society represent a loss of status within society. THey cannot vote. THey cannot own fire arms. They are not part of "The People" who are protected by the 2nd Amendment (although they do have other rights that are, such as right to free speech and religion, which are not restricted to a special group).

  • ModeratePoli

    That is only one interpretation of the Constitution, and it is quite an extrapolation from the actual words. Note that the Constitution doesn't define "The People" as not including felons, at least it doesn't to my knowledge. The tradition may have developed that way in some states, but it doesn't have to stay that way. Nor would it take constitutional amendments to change the tradition because it isn't based on the definite words of the Constitution.

    Also you haven't really spoken to why voting rights must be treated the same as gun rights. You lump them together, but there's no particular reason to lump them together. Just putting them together as both "political rights" doesn't make it show, and still doesn't take into account the differences between these rights and the implications of exercising them.

    So, having established that voting rights are different from gun rights, I now propose that it is better for both society and freed felons to have voting rights. It is better since it simplifies enforcement of voting rules, encourages involvement in civil life, and removes an unnecessary stigma. Are your arguments for denying voting rights stronger than this?

  • mlhouse

    Sorry, it isn't even an interpretation nor is it an extrapolation. IT IS THE EXACT WORDS AND THE EXACT DEFINITION. Further, the Constitution CLEARLY defines "The People". It is the group that establishes the Constitution. "WE THE PEOPLE" is a specific term of art. It does not say "We the CITIZENS" or "We the individuals that live in the United States". It specifies. In 1787 it specified a group of individuals that had full voting political rights: white, free, and propertied.

    Next, the reason why "gun rights" and voting rights are linked is simply because gun rights are only protected for "The People" under the 2nd amendment. The link is not "lumped" together so much as how the Constitution defines the 2nd Amendment. It is the same mechanism that government can prohibit a minor from purchasing a firearm. They are not protected by the 2nd Amendment because they are not part of The People (notice that minors do have other rights protected by the Bill of Rights that cannot be taken away).

    Clearly, we could change how we treat felons who are freed. I do not favor allowing them to automatically obtain their voting (hence, their gun) rights. They committed crimes against society and should not be afforded automatic reentry to the same. I do not object to some form of process were these rights could be restored over time of good behavior. BEcause of the gun issue whatever these steps are they should be slow and the burden of proof of good behavior on the felon. These issues, at least in mine (and pretty much the majority of people) trump your rational of "simplification" and stigmatizing ex-felons. Frankly, if they are so worried about being "stigmatized" by society they should not have committed the felonies in the first place.

    Maybe, if we lived in an utopian world were our criminal system rehabilitated criminals and recidivism was zero your points of view would carry more weight with me. But we don't live in a utopia. We live in a world were there are significant criminal elements that commit new crimes as soon as they are released from prison. It is too bad that some individuals that truly want to turn their lives around are swallowed by such a system, but that is reality.

  • ModeratePoli

    Asserting that there is no interpretation is ridiculous. There is always interpretation. Sometimes there is very strong agreement in interpreting words or symbols (such as 2 + 3 = 5), but usually it is much more difficult than that. That is why definitions are important and why case law (or any exegesis) grows volumes and volumes.

    I seriously doubt that gun rights and voting rights were always treated exactly the same. I could probably do some research and show where it wasn't true. I bet you're doubting that they were always treated the same too. Do you think that felons were always denied the right to vote when their sentences ended? That they were always denied the right to own guns when their sentences ended? I sincerely doubt that there were such laws in the 1800's. What is more likely is that customs grew up. Your argument that it is based on the Constitution is an after-the-fact argument.

    You even say that it should be possible to regain these rights to voting and gun ownership, further showing that the suspension is not set in stone, but subject to consideration. I totally agree that these rights are subject to consideration, and so I proposed some considerations. You tried to argue that the rights were lost per the Constiution, but if that were true, why could a process not listed in the Constitution allow for restoration of those rights?

  • mlhouse

    1. The wording of the 2nd Amendment was not random. It did not just include the term "The People" in an offhand way. Instead, the noun "People" is used in a very measured way indicating who is being protected. As I pointed out, the Preamble of the Constitution defines WHO is making the Constitution: The People. But, this did not include all citizens or inhabitants. It only included individuals with full political rights. THere is no interpretation to this.

    2. Voting rights are just part of the political rights that are part of the "package". Also included is the right to serve on juries and other political aspects that are tied to a select group of citizens.

    3. Released felons are citizens that have had certain political rights stripped away. THey are not part of "the People". They have certain rights that are protected by the Constitution but like minors they do not possess all of the protections.

    4. As I have stated, the proof of my proposition is the fact that certain citizens were excluded from these protections. Minors are one group. Women, blacks, Native Americans, indentured servants and slaves were other groups in the past that did not possess full political rights and clearly were not protected by the 2nd Amendment and other infringements on their rights.

    5. Felons are just another group of individuals that have been stripped of their political rights for crimes against society, and therefore they are not protected by the Constitution. TO look at other examples of how felons do not possess full protection, consider that they are not fully able to freely move across the country and that the warrant requirements for search and seizure are not the same for other citizens.

    6. As far as studying the history of felons and their relationship to the Constitution, I would argue that the concept of a felon is not the same in early American history as it is today. Clearly though, the modern concept of a FELON strips such people of their political rights. But the point is made. THey are citizens, but not part of "The People". Hence their lack of protection.

    7. I in fact stated what I consider the minimum requirement for restoration of rights: the proof of good behavior. I believe that this could be done by creating to levels of probation. The first highly monitored and the second period less monitored. Felons that go through the probation process with a clean record could then have their political rights restored. But, as I said, the burden should be on them.

    8. With the incorporation of the 2nd Amendment via Heller there are cases in the court system challenging for gun rights for convicted felons. But those cases will stand or fail on a strict scrutiny argument about the value such laws have in stripping such individuals of their 2nd Amendment protections. In my opinion, the state and federal government will easily prevail on a strict scrutiny basis because of an easily established public safety argument.

    8. The other aspect that perhaps you are skirting is the notion of what is a felony and why should some crimes be considered a felony, with the resultant stripping of certain political rights, and others not. That is a good argument to make but I really am not that interested in it. While there are felons that commit non-violent felonies, most of the argument will center around the supposed non-violent drug criminals. I reject the adjective(s).

    9. In the end, if you don't want to pay the punishment, including the loss of some political rights, don't do the crime. Crime and PUNISHMENT. It is not "crime and make everything ok" because that does not create a disincentive to crime. An eye for an eye is simply not good enough, and in my opinion it is way cheaper to build more prisons than to tolerate the criminal elements.

  • ModeratePoli

    I think we have two areas of agreement, but lots of areas of disagreement. Let's see if you would have the same list:

    Agree:
    1. Felons can have rights removed, but these are removed by law (statue or case law). The list of rights removed isn't in the Constitution.
    2. Certain groups did not have full rights under the Constitution

    Disagreements:
    1. The definition of THE PEOPLE. I disagree that it is defined in the Constitution. If you think it is, please cite the actual words of that definition. However, none of my arguments depend on a definition or interpretation of THE PEOPLE.
    2. I disagree that there are certain pre-defined "packages" of rights. What would specify these packages?
    3. I disagree that voting rights should be removed for felons that have finished their sentences. My argument isn't based on a constitutional right (I don't think there is one), but on what laws are most beneficial to society.

  • mlhouse

    1. The Constitution does not create any law itself. So of course felons have their rights removes by laws created by state or the federal government. That these laws have not been overturned demonstrates that this group of citizens is not protected by the pertinent bill of rights amendments.

    2. It is defined by the Constitution. "We The People, in order to make a more perfect union……do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." Who made the Constitution? The People. Who were the People? Citizens that possessed full political rights. In 1787 that included ONLY white males with certain levels of property. It did not include women (who were citizens). It did not include free blacks (who were not citizens). It did not include children, indentured servants or slaves. Those groups had certain rights, even rights protected by the constitution, but they were not fully protected by such. It is as clear as anything.

    3. Sure there are. Again, I have pointed out several examples. For example. Minors have many rights, but they do not have full rights. They are not fully protected by the Constitution. For example, they can be prohibited from voting. They cannot serve on juries. THey cannot purchase fire arms. But, they have freedom of religion and speech. They have rights to trial by jury, etc, etc.

    4. Yeah, well, states are allowed to determine this status. I believe at a minimum that convicted felons should be stripped of voting rights until their parole/probation periods have been served. Two states allow incarcerated felons to vote (Maine and Vermont). Thirteen states allow voting after their period of incarceration has been served. 24 after parole/probation. And 11 with exceptions remove these rights permanently. That is the beauty of a federal system. We have a wide range of laws that represent the heterogeneous interests of the various states and their citizens.

  • ModeratePoli

    A few points:

    2) In this, the majority of the words you've used to explain the meaning of THE PEOPLE don't come from the Constitution, but from... (ta da) an interpretation of what was meant. What definition do you get of THE PEOPLE when you restrict yourself to phrases used only within the Constitution? That would be what the Constitution says about THE PEOPLE. The rest is interpretation.

    4) We will no doubt continue to disagree about which rights/privileges convicted felons should have. I don't say your opinion is invalid under the Constitution, I hope you grant me the same consideration.

  • mlhouse

    Again, the term "The People" is clearly defined by the Constitution. It was done that way on purpose. The Constitution was not established by Congress nor the individual states. It was established by THE PEOPLE. And only minimal "interpretation" is needed to determine who this was: citizens who possessed full political powers.

    And again, as I have stated, sometimes in mathematical proofs you prove a theorem by using complements. What the theorem is not. ANd, what was NOT the People was also clear: women, free blacks, Native Americans, children, indentured servants, people without property qualifications, and slaves. What do these groups have in common: they did not possess full political powers.

    One small note of agreement I will concede to you is that these definitions were not rigid or defined by the Constitution. For my argument that is not important. One state may have qualified a voter for the ratification convention in one way and another state another way, with the main difference being property qualifications. But, as I stated, that is not important to my argument because it still left out groups of people who were not part of the "People" and who were not fully protected by the 2nd and other amendments.

  • ModeratePoli

    "I will concede to you is that these definitions were not rigid or defined by the Constitution." That's what I've been saying. "For my argument that is not important." Agreed.

  • mlhouse

    Well, I disagree that is what you have been saying because you are extending this too far. THe Constitution did not define what The People was except for they possessed the political rights. One state could have defined this as a white male with more than $500 of assets. ANother state a white male with $50. Those are trivial details when you are discussing what "the People" are and who is "protected" under this definition.