A Baton Rouge-based state appeals court wrestled Tuesday with the thorny legal question of whether felons on probation and parole should be allowed to vote in Louisiana. Attorneys for the state and a group of felons challenging current Louisiana law debated the phrase “under an order of imprisonment” before a three-judge panel of the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal at the LSU Law Center. The 1974 Louisiana Constitution bars people “under an order of imprisonment” for a felony conviction from voting. A 1976 state law that is under attack expanded the definition of that phrase, saying felons on probation and parole cannot vote. Bill Quigley, who represents a group of felons who challenged the 1976 law, argued Tuesday that the plain language and meaning of “under an order of imprisonment” should control the outcome of the case.
“Imprisonment means you are in prison,” he told Circuit Judges Toni Higginbotham, Allison Penzato and Guy Holdridge. “You are not under an order of imprisonment (if on probation or parole) because you are not in prison.”
Lani Durio, an attorney for Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler, argued to the appellate court panel that the dispute is a question of law, not semantics.
“You can define imprisonment all you want,” she said. “`Under an order of imprisonment’ means more than imprisoned. `Under an order of imprisonment’ does not mean actual imprisonment.”