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Johnson v. Bredesen, 08-6377

By FindLaw Staff | Last updated on

Constitutional challenge to Tennessee's voter re-franchisement statute by Tennessee residents and convicted felons

Johnson v. Bredesen, 08-6377, concerned a challenge to the district court's grant of defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings, in a suit filed by Tennessee residents and convicted felons, claiming that the Tennessee's voter re-franchisement statute, which conditions restoration of plaintiffs' voting rights on payment of court-ordered victim restitution and child support obligations, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Twenty Fourth Amendment, and the Ex Post Facto and Privileges or Immunities Clauses of the U.S. and Tennessee Constitution.


In affirming, the court held that the challenged provisions in the re-franchisement law bear, at a minimum, a direct and rational relationship to the advancement of legitimate interests of the state, and therefore withstand rational basis scrutiny.  Further, even if the Twenty Fourth Amendment applies, Tennessee's re-franchisement statute does not violate it because the restitution and child-support payment provisions fail to qualify as the sort of taxes the Amendment seeks to prohibit.  The district court correctly rejected plaintiffs' privileges or immunities argument because adopting it would require the absurd holding that section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment proscribes the very same practice the Supreme Court expressly deemed permissible under section 2 of that same amendment.  Lastly, because disenfranchisement statutes do not violate the Ex Post Facto Clause of the U.S. Constitution as a matter of federal law, it necessarily follows that, if the laws that strip convicted felons of their voting rights in the first instance fail to qualify as punitive, then those that subject restoration to the fulfillment of certain conditions do not either.

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