(No. 08-6377, 6th Circuit Court of Appeals)
ACLU-TN Cooperating Attorney: Charles K. Grant, Baker Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz
ACLU Attorneys: Tricia Herzfeld, ACLU-TN; and Laughlin McDonald, Neil Bradley, and Nancy G. Abudu, ACLU Voting Rights Project
Plaintiffs: Terrence Johnson, Jim Harris and Alexander Friedman
Defendants: Phil Bredesen, Governor of the State of Tennessee; Brook Thompson, Coordinator of Elections; Riley Darnell, Secretary of State of Tennessee; James Johnson, Administrator of Elections for Shelby County; Kim Buckley, Administrator of Elections for Madison County; Ray Barrett, Administrator of Elections for Davidson County, in their official capacities
Tennessee law requires people who have completed sentences for felony convictions to pay restitution and child support before having their voting rights restored. This proves difficult for people like Terrence Johnson and Jim Harris, who actually gained full custody of their children but who couldn’t afford to pay the back child support they owed.
In Johnson, et. al. v. Bredesen, et. al., ACLU-TN and the ACLU Voting Rights Project challenged this law on the grounds that making the payment of financial obligations a condition of voting is an unreasonable burden on the right to vote, similar to a poll tax.
We also raised additional due process claims relating to the difficulty one plaintiff, Alex Friedmann, was having in ascertaining whether he even owed the restitution the state was contending he pay.
Mr. Friedmann’s claims were resolved and he was able to vote in the November 4, 2008 election — voting for the first time in his life.
However, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee ruled that people with felony convictions do not have the same level of protection of voting rights as other citizens and that the condition of voting on the payment of outstanding financial obligations was not a violation of law.
ACLU-TN appealed the district court’s decision to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.
On October 28, 2010, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 against our claims.
On November 10, 2010 ACLU-TN and the ACLU Voting Rights Project filed a petition for rehearing en banc, which was denied.
On March 15, 2011, we filed a petition for certiorari with the United States Supreme Court, which was denied on May 23, 2011.
ACLU Challenges Tennessee Voter Re-Enfranchisement Law (November 10, 2010)
ACLU Sues Over Tennessee’s Felon Disenfranchisement Law (February 25, 2008)
Terrence Johnson et. al. v. Bredesen, et. al. – Petition for Rehearing En Banc (November 10, 2010)
Terrence Johnson et. al. v. Bredesen, et. al. – Complaint (February 25, 2008)