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Griffin v. Pate

The Brennan Center filed an amicus brief with the Iowa Supreme Court arguing that Iowa’s felony disenfranchisement policy improperly burdens Iowans’ voting rights.

Published: August 7, 2016

On June 30, 2016, in a case called Griffin v. Pate, the Iowa Supreme Court held that Iowa’s policy of perman­ent disen­fran­chise­ment for all citizens with felony convic­tions does not viol­ate the state’s consti­tu­tion. Iowa remains one of only three states – along­side Kentucky and Flor­ida – to continue this harsh and anti­quated policy of life­time disen­fran­chise­ment.

The lawsuit was brought by the Amer­ican Civil Liber­ties Union of Iowa, on behalf of Kelli Jo Griffin, an Iowa resid­ent and mother of four who is disen­fran­chised because of a past drug-related offense. Together they asked the court to declare that the Iowa Consti­tu­tion prohib­its the disen­fran­chise­ment of people convicted of certain felon­ies (such as Griffin’s nonvi­ol­ent drug offense). The Bren­nan Center filed an amicus brief in this case with pro-bono coun­sel Green­berg Traurig, LLP, on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Iowa.

The major­ity opin­ion disagreed with the chal­lengers, and held that the state’s consti­tu­tion does not prohibit the disen­fran­chise­ment of all citizens with felony convic­tions. The decision relied on the legis­lature’s inter­pret­a­tion of the consti­tu­tion in making their decision.

Iowa’s Disen­fran­chise­ment Law

For a time, Iowa ended its perman­ent disen­fran­chise­ment. In 2005, then-Gov. Tom Vilsack issued an exec­ut­ive order restor­ing voting rights to Iowans who had already completed sentences for felony convic­tions, and provid­ing for ongo­ing restor­a­tions to people complet­ing sentences there­after. In the nearly six years it was in effect, Vilsack’s order restored voting rights to an estim­ated 115,000 citizens. Imme­di­ately upon taking office, his successor, Gov. Terry Bran­stad, issued his own exec­ut­ive order that perman­ently disen­fran­chised people with felony convic­tions unless they applied to his office for approval.

Court Docu­ments

Supreme Court of Iowa

District Court

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