A felon's right to vote

Law and Philosophy 21 (4/5):543-564 (2002)
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Legal statutes prohibiting felons from voting result in nearly 4 million Americans, disproportionately African-American and male, being unable to vote. These felony disenfranchisement (FD) statutes have a long history and apparently enjoy broad public support. Here I argue that despite the popularity and extensive history of these laws, denying felons the right to vote is an unjust form of punishment in a democratic state. FD serves none of the recognized purposes of punishment and may even exacerbate crime. My strategy is not to argue for this conclusion directly. Rather, I consider seven arguments for the moral legitimacy of FD, each of which will be found lacking. My emphasis falls not on the legal or constitutional questions associated with FD, but with its moral justification within a broadly liberal political framework. These arguments draw upon a variety of philosophical outlooks; three justify FD by appealing to justice or desert, three others justify FD based on its allegedly beneficial social consequences, and a final argument is a hybrid of both sorts of considerations. Not only do all these arguments fail, but eliminating FD could have salutary effects on our present climate of political discourse.



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Michael Cholbi
University of Edinburgh

References found in this work

Locke and the Right to Punish.A. Simmons - 1994 - In A. John Simmons, Marshall Cohen, Joshua Cohen & Charles R. Beitz (eds.), Punishment: A Philosophy and Public Affairs Reader. Princeton University Press. pp. 219-258.
On rights and responsibilities.John Deign - 1988 - Law and Philosophy 7 (2):147-178.

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