Lawyers for the state of Alabama sparred Tuesday afternoon in federal court in Montgomery with attorneys representing a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit over issues related to Alabama’s felony disenfranchisement law. The hearing centered on a request by the Campaign Legal Center, a voting rights advocacy group, that Chief District Judge W. Keith Watkins force the state to take steps to educate thousands of convicted felons that they may be eligible to vote under a new state law. The organization is also asking Watkins to force the state to automatically add to the voting rolls several thousand convicted felons who applied to register to vote in recent years but were denied that opportunity, yet are now eligible to regain the franchise under the new law. “An issue will be ordered forthwith,” Watkins said at the conclusion of the hearing, without offering a specific timeframe for a ruling on the Campaign Legal Center’s request for a preliminary injunction, which was initially filed June 30.
The law clarifies what the exact implications are of a section of the state Constitution that states that any person convicted of a crime of “moral turpitude” in Alabama loses the right to vote in the state. The legislation lists several dozen felonies that constitute such crimes of “moral turpitude,” thereby replacing a more arbitrary system that for more than a century left individual county boards of registrars largely responsible for determining which crimes crossed that threshold.