In September 2005, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (“NAACP LDF”) filed Gooden v. Worley, a lawsuit that sought to compel the Secretary of State to register eligible Alabama voters.
Although Alabama’s disenfranchisement law disqualifies only people convicted of felonies “involving moral turpitude,” the Alabama Secretary of State had instructed voter registrars throughout the state to refuse to register any person with a felony conviction, including those whose convictions do not involve moral turpitude. On August 23, 2006, a state trial court agreed with the plaintiffs in the case, and said that since no workable definition of “moral turpitude” existed, the state’s felony disenfranchisement law would be inactive until the legislature defined the term.
The defendants appealed the case to the Alabama Supreme Court, where the title of the case changed to Chapman v. Gooden to reflect Alabama’s new Secretary of State. On January 17, 2007, NAACP LDF and their co-counsel, Alabama lawyer Ed Still, filed a brief with the Alabama Supreme Court, arguing that the trial court’s decision must be affirmed to ensure the voting rights of all Alabama citizens. The Brennan Center filed an Amicus Brief (Latin for “friend of the court” brief) in support of the plaintiffs. The brief was submitted on behalf of over 50 religious leaders in Alabama. United in their belief that felony disenfranchisement offends basic Christian principles, these leaders urged the Court to affirm the decision below.
On June 1, 2007, the state Supreme Court dismissed the case. However, that decision did not repudiate the basic legal principles that plaintiffs sought to protect through this lawsuit. The court’s ruling was based largely on the fact that Alabama had already responded to the litigation by ending its practice of categorically disqualifying all individuals with felony convictions.
Brennan Center Brief