A lawsuit seeking to restore voting rights to nearly 70,000 Louisianians on probation or parole for felony crimes will go forward against the state Secretary of State's Office, but not the governor, and not as a class action, a Baton Rouge judge decided Monday.
State District Judge Tim Kelley said there's no reason to certify the suit, filed in July, as a class action because his ultimate ruling on the merits of the case will apply to not just the named plaintiffs but also the tens of thousands of similarly situated felons on probation and parole across the state.
"It's (class-action certification) unnecessary. Any decision on it affects all equally. There's no need for a class," the judge said from the bench following a hearing in his 19th Judicial District courtroom.
The 1974 state Constitution says people under an order of imprisonment cannot vote. A 1976 state law, which the lawsuit attacks, altered the definition of who can vote to exclude people on probation or parole. The change did not go before voters.
"Statutes cannot go beyond what the people voted for," said Bill Quigley, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys. "We say 'under order of imprisonment' means you're in prison."
Checo Yancy, of Baton Rouge and one of the named plaintiffs, said outside Kelley's courtroom that the 1976 law amounts to "taxation without representation."
An activist group filed a class-action lawsuit Friday seeking to restore voting rights to te…
The 70-year-old Yancy was released from prison in 2003 after serving 20 years but said he won't be paroled until 2056. He said he can drive his wife to the polls, but he can't vote.
"That's the hurtin' thing," Yancy said, adding that the state is disenfranchising himself and tens of thousands of other felons on probation or parole.
The first time Checo W. Yancy entered the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, he was a s…
The state Attorney General's Office has said it believes the restrictions on voting rights of convicted felons are constitutional.
If Kelley strikes down the 1976 law, the case would go directly to the Louisiana Supreme Court. Quibley said the case involves an interesting issue.
"We look forward to being back before him," he said.
The suit's plaintiffs include an activist group called Voice of the Ex-Offender, known as VOTE, and eight individuals.
The Louisiana House of Representatives earlier this year rejected a bill that would have allowed people on felony probation or parole to vote.
The lawsuit came weeks after the passage of a law known as "Ban the Box" that prohibits Louisiana government employees from asking about past criminal history on a job application. The measure is intended to give ex-convicts a better chance of re-entering the workforce.