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Justices rule man not disenfranchised under the Infamous Crimes Clause

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The Indiana Supreme Court hesitantly answered Thursday a certified question from the federal court as to whether misdemeanor battery is an “infamous crime” under Article II, Section 8 of the Indiana Constitution.

In David R. Snyder v. J. Bradley King and Trent Deckard, in their Official Capacities as Co-Directors of the Indiana Election Division; and Linda Silcott and Pam Brunette, No. 94S00-1101-CQ-50, David Snyder filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of Indiana, alleging violations of the National Voter Registration Act and other federal laws, as well as the Infamous Crimes Clause of the Indiana Constitution, which gives the General Assembly power to disenfranchise anyone convicted of an “infamous crime.” Snyder was convicted of Class A misdemeanor battery and informed by the St. Joseph County Board of Voter Registration that his registration had been canceled in accordance with state law. The General Assembly has enacted statutes under which a person convicted of a crime and sentenced to an executed term of imprisonment cannot vote while incarcerated. After his release, he never attempted to re-register as he is allowed and instead filed a lawsuit.

The justices took U.S. Judge William Lawrence’s certified question and reframed it as whether misdemeanor battery is an “infamous crime” under Article II, Section 8 of the Indiana Constitution, and if not, whether cancellation of Snyder’s voter registration violated the Indiana Constitution.

In the 30-page opinion, Justice Frank Sullivan explored the history of infamous crimes and previous caselaw to determine that Snyder’s conviction isn’t considered “infamous” under the Infamous Crimes Clause. The justices determined that whether a crime is infamous for purposes of the clause depends not on the nature of the punishment, but on the nature of the crime itself. They refused to make a bright-line rule that all misdemeanors would not fall under the Infamous Crimes Clause.

“We hold that an infamous crime is one involving an affront to democratic governance or the public administration of justice such that there is a reasonable probability that a person convicted of such a crime poses a threat to the integrity of elections,” wrote Sullivan. “An infamous crime may include some felonies and some misdemeanors, but crimes marked by gross moral turpitude alone are not sufficient to render a crime infamous for purposes of the Infamous Crimes Clause.”

The justices held that the Indiana Constitution wasn’t violated when Snyder was not allowed to vote during his incarceration.

“We hold that the Indiana General Assembly has authority under its general police power to disenfranchise persons incarcerated upon conviction of a crime, so long as the disenfranchisement lasts only for the duration of incarceration. That the statute cites the Infamous Crimes Clause as the basis for its enactment, instead of the general police power, does not render it invalid. This language in no way affects the purpose or effect of the statute, and we will not invalidate an otherwise constitutional statute merely because it includes an unnecessary statement of authority,” he wrote.

Sullivan also noted that the “troubling posture” of the case warranted further comment about addressing an issue of state constitutional law in the context of a certified question. He pointed out that Snyder filed his Section 1983 claim in federal court, which depends in large part on an alleged violation of state constitutional law. State courts have concurrent jurisdiction with federal courts over these claims, but by filing in the federal court and asking that Lawrence certify the question to the Indiana Supreme Court, Snyder has “successfully circumvented the normal course of litigation in Indiana courts,” wrote Sullivan.

The high court cautioned future litigants to be aware of the pitfalls of certified questions when deciding whether to proceed in state court or in federal court.
 

 

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  1. Major social engineering imposed by judicial order well in advance of democratic change, has been the story of the whole post ww2 period. Contraception, desegregation, abortion, gay marriage: all rammed down the throats of Americans who didn't vote to change existing laws on any such thing, by the unelected lifetime tenure Supreme court heirarchs. Maybe people came to accept those things once imposed upon them, but, that's accommodation not acceptance; and surely not democracy. So let's quit lying to the kids telling them this is a democracy. Some sort of oligarchy, but no democracy that's for sure, and it never was. A bourgeois republic from day one.

  2. JD Massur, yes, brings to mind a similar stand at a Texas Mission in 1836. Or Vladivostok in 1918. As you seemingly gloat, to the victors go the spoils ... let the looting begin, right?

  3. I always wondered why high fence deer hunting was frowned upon? I guess you need to keep the population steady. If you don't, no one can enjoy hunting! Thanks for the post! Fence

  4. Whether you support "gay marriage" or not is not the issue. The issue is whether the SCOTUS can extract from an unmentionable somewhere the notion that the Constitution forbids government "interference" in the "right" to marry. Just imagine time-traveling to Philadelphia in 1787. Ask James Madison if the document he and his fellows just wrote allowed him- or forbade government to "interfere" with- his "right" to marry George Washington? He would have immediately- and justly- summoned the Sergeant-at-Arms to throw your sorry self out into the street. Far from being a day of liberation, this is a day of capitulation by the Rule of Law to the Rule of What's Happening Now.

  5. With today's ruling, AG Zoeller's arguments in the cases of Obamacare and Same-sex Marriage can be relegated to the ash heap of history. 0-fer

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