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Johnson v. Bredesen

The Center filed an amicus brief with the 6th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals in support of the plaintiff’s challenge to Tennessee’s voter restoration law denying voting rights to individuals with felony convictions. Individuals are not eligible to vote until they pay child support arrears and/or restitution.

Published: April 24, 2009

The Brennan Center filed an amicus brief with the 6th Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals in Johnson v. Bredesen, a case that challenges Tennessee’s voter restoration law.

In Johnson v. Bredesen, plaintiffs, represented by the ACLU, challenge Tennessee’s statutory provision which conditions the right to vote of persons with felony convictions on their ability to pay legal financial obligations (“LFOs”) – namely child support arrears and/or restitution. Plaintiffs allege that Tennessee’s requirement mandating that individuals satisfy payment of their LFOs is a wealth-based qualification to voting, and therefore stands in violation of the equal protection clause of the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Privileges and Immunities Clauses of the federal and state constitutions. Plaintiffs also argue that, because the LFO requirement is a punishment for their status as felons, enforcement of Tennessee’s requirement violates the state and federal Ex Post Facto clauses.

The Brennan Center brief argues that Tennessee’s law functions as an illegal poll tax in violation of the 24th Amendment, relying on the Amendment’s legislative history, case law interpreting the Amendment and policy arguments.    

Plaintiffs’ amended complaint was dismissed by the district court on November 10, 2008. Plaintiffs appealed the decision and the 6th Circuit panel affirmed the lower court’s ruling, thus upholding the Tennessee statute. The Brennan Center partnered with Sidney S. Rosdeitcher of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and Paul W. Ambrosius of Trauger & Tuke in the drafting of its amicus brief.