There is nothing illegal about Arizona laws that keep convicted felons from voting, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.
The judges said the U.S. Constitution specifically recognizes the ability of states to disenfranchise those convicted of "participation in rebellion or other crime." And the court also threw out a challenge to another Arizona law which says those convicted of only a single felony can vote - but only after they have paid all court fines and restitution.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three Tucsonans and two Phoenix residents.
Alessandra Meetze, the state ACLU director acknowledged states can disfranchise people convicted of treason and other "common law" crimes, which includes murder, rape and burglary.
But she argued it does not permit the state to take away voting rights of those convicted of offenses that are crimes solely because the Legislature determined the acts are illegal. Meetze said these most often are drug offenses, though they also include gambling and eavesdropping.
Meetze said figures from the state Department of Corrections show close to seven out of every 10 felons are convicted of drug offenses.
But retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who was part of the 9th Circuit panel that considered the arguments, said there is no legal basis for the distinction that Meetze seeks to make between crimes.
The narrower challenge was to the requirement for one-time felons to pay all court-ordered fines and restitution before they could get back the right to vote. Meetze called that "the modern equivalent of a poll tax," saying it links the right to vote on someone's failure or inability to pay.
O'Connor, however, said there is a rational basis for states restoring voting rights only to those who have completed their sentence - including court-ordered financial obligations.
"Just as states might reasonably conclude that perpetrators of serious crimes should not take part in electing government officials, so too it might rationally conclude that those who have satisfied their debts to society through fulfilling the terms of a criminal sentence are entitled to restoration of their voting rights," she wrote.
Anyway, O'Connor said, nothing even requires Arizona to offer felons convicted of just one offense the right to vote.