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Legislature must fix consequences of bad Court ruling

In his headlong rush to buffalo legislators into unneeded tax increases, perhaps Gov. John Bel Edwards will take the time to include in an anticipated special session call a measure to correct, on two levels, a helpful constitutional amendment recently entirely gutted by the judiciary.

Last month, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled the provision that barred unpardoned felons from running for office for 15 years after the end of their sentences suffered from a drafting error that rendered it unconstitutional. Apparently, even as the Legislature in its Act 1492 of 1997 provided a provision that applied this attenuation only to individuals “actually under an order of imprisonment for conviction of a felony,” the secretary of state then mistakenly left that language off the ballot. A majority ruled the matter inseverable and junked the entire thing.

Ironically, when Prisoner #30609-034 challenged the ruling so as to run last fall for the state House, he never should have had standing in the first place since he, once known as state Sen. Derrick Shepherd, did not receive probation for his federal corruption conviction but imprisonment. Yet only Court of Appeals Judge (sitting as a Supreme Court substitute) John Michael Guidry had the temerity to call the court’s majority to that inconvenience.

Yet the majority’s freelancing that produced poor decision-making historically on this particular matter has not been even the Court’s worst. In 2006, another bad decision weakened the original product. In this one, Prisoner #08515-035, once known as Shreveport City Councilman Joe Shyne, for some reason received a gubernatorial pardon from former Gov. Mike Foster for his federal corruption conviction. When he tried to run for his old seat, the bill’s author former state Sen. Max Malone objected to his candidacy, pointing out that governors could not issue pardons applying to federal crimes. However, the Court, following a lower court’s lead, conjured a new gubernatorial power that uncovered for governors an unwritten pardon ability to restore collateral state civil rights lost through felony conviction of any kind.

While some may argue that the negated amendment’s slight restriction of the electorate’s freedom to choose their public officials – assuming that voters have the wisdom and discernment to decide electorally whether an ex-con has regained the right to represent them – unnecessarily limits it, the deterrent effect of this kind of passage to misbehavior in office, or more generally any kind of felonious activity, more than compensates for the miniscule reduction in voter choice. Thus, rectification should happen as soon as possible.

As Edwards continues to insist a special session draw nigh, and that he could order one of up to three weeks in length, even with a hemorrhaging budget surely he could find it in his heart to work in this small item that generated little controversy nearly two decades ago. Even if in trying to magnify the panic of the current fiscal situation in order to secure tax hikes by not including any non-fiscal items, surely the Legislature must take up this matter in its regular session starting in fewer than six weeks. Legislatures must clean up after courts when they fail the polity.

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