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“Voting Rights Should Not Precede Gun Rights”: Conservatives Would Let Felons Vote And Pack Heat

It’s an idea so incredibly crazy it just might work: Restoring voting rights to non-violent felons—if they get back their right to own guns, too.

For some tough-on-crime conservatives, the right to bear firearms is a right that is as fundamental as the right to vote. Capitalizing on this sentiment, the strategy goes, could lead to a larger compromise on felons’ rights.

“If someone asked me if I would rather vote for mayor or have a gun, I’d rather have a gun,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and a signatory to the conservative Right on Crime criminal justice reform coalition.

Criminal-justice reform is a hot topic in Washington, D.C. this Congress, driven by the prospect of bipartisan collaboration in an era of divided government. Leading lawmakers in both Republican and Democratic camps have proposed legislation that would address police militarization, civil asset forfeiture, and mandatory minimum sentences.

Groups such as the Brennan Center and the ACLU have also been working on reenfranchising felons in some way.

Sen. Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican, proposed a bill last year that would restore voting rights for nonviolent felons, joining the ranks of Democrats such as Sen. Ben Cardin who believe that at least some felons should have their voting rights restored.

However, advocates of criminal justice reform are nervous about Sen. Chuck Grassley, who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, and has not been gung ho about some of these ideas. He’s skeptical about reforms to mandatory minimums, for example, viewing them as a source of “stability in the criminal justice system.”

The thinking goes that Grassley—a senator with an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association—might be brought to the negotiating table on voting rights if the right to bear firearms were in the mix (Grassley’s office did not comment for this article).

It’s a long-shot idea, and in its embryonic stage. But tough-on-crime conservatives aren’t likely to budge on the restoration of voting rights to felons—who, they suspect, will not vote for their candidates if re-enfranchised—if they don’t get something in return.

“It is the obvious compromise,” Norquist said. “Many conservatives willing to restore voting rights would not be willing to suggest Second Amendment rights are second-class rights… In talking to conservatives, some are more or less excited about speeding up voting rights restoration. But all, when asked, agree voting rights should not precede gun rights.”

Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik should know something about the way the criminal justice treats felons—he’s also an ex-convict.

“[Lawmakers] should give at least equal attention to voting rights, Second Amendment rights… that you are deprived of as a result of the conviction,” Kerik told The Daily Beast.

A former cop, Kerik was appointed by the Bush administration to be an interim Iraqi minister of interior following the U.S. invasion, and was also once nominated to be U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security. He withdrew his nomination after he acknowledged failing to pay taxes for a nanny he hired. After pleading guilty to charges relating to this tax issue, he was sentenced to several years in federal prison.

The theft of oysters or harvesting too many fish commercially can make you a felon, Kerik said. And, as he too well knows, so can a federal tax charge.

“I possessed a firearm for this country for 35 years. I’ve used a firearm personally when my partner was shot in a gun battle… I was convicted of false statements on tax charges primarily relating to my children’s nanny, but I can never possess firearms again for the rest of my life. Is it fair? No.” Kerik told The Daily Beast.

Kerik is also planning to launch a nonprofit organization to press for criminal justice reform in the next several weeks.

Among libertarians working on the criminal justice issue, there is some initial support for the idea, even in its early stages.

“Obviously, we’d need to see details of any proposal, but we’d be very likely to support a bill that restored voting and Second Amendment rights to nonviolent offenders who made youthful mistakes,” said David Pasch, spokesman for Generation Opportunity, a Koch-backed youth advocacy group.

Clark Neily, a senior attorney at the libertarian Institute for Justice, said he has heard about the prospect of combining voting and Second Amendment in a broader effort to restore rights to some felons. He approves of rights restoration broadly, but disapproves of the idea of a political trade on the issues.

“If what is going on is trying to limit the extent to which people are dispossessed of political rights, great. But if it’s a political ploy, I find it distasteful,” he said. “If it is in fact a trade-off, I don’t like the idea of horse-trading when it comes to liberties, or constitutional rights.”

Much of the momentum for criminal justice reform on the right has been created due to renewed efforts by libertarians like the Koch brothers.  However, many of the major groups operating in this policy area—such as the Charles Koch Institute, the Institute for Justice nor the Right on Crime coalition—have yet to take a formal stance on the restoration of Second Amendment rights to nonviolent felons.

Under federal law, felons lose their right to bear firearms, unless their rights are individually restored by a federal agency or through litigation. Felons are subject to the laws of their state when it comes to their right to vote after their time is served. In 11 states, felons lose their right to vote forever, while in two states felons continue to have the right to vote even while in prison. The remainder of the states have some sort of limitation on voting rights for felons.

For now, as the idea is being mulled, the legislative prospects for the trade-off are not good. If any compromise is made on the issue, it will likely be first formed off of Capitol Hill by outside criminal justice reform groups, away from the political poison pill of restoring rights to felons, even nonviolent ones.

“Tons of momentum in the public for criminal justice reform, but not nearly as much in the Republican caucus,” said a top Senate aide who works on the issue. “Many of the Republican caucus were elected when tough-on-crime was a driving force.”

Prison reform, civil asset forfeiture reform, and a juvenile justice bill are far more likely to pass in the current political environment, the aide said.

But Norquist argued that if progressive lawmakers are serious about helping felons rejoin society, the restoration of firearms rights should be on the table.

“If someone thinks [ex-felons] should not be trusted with a gun, why would you trust him with voting for the government, which is the legal monopoly on force?” he said.

 

By: Tim Mak, The Daily Beast, February 8, 2015

February 10, 2015 Posted by | Felons, Gun Ownership, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rep Michael Grimm, Tax Evader”: The Felon Who Wouldn’t Leave Congress

Michael Grimm just got re-elected to Congress in November, so why should he resign over a minor detail like pleading guilty to a felony?

As first reported by the New York Daily News, the Staten Island Republican will plead guilty to one count of tax evasion in federal court on Tuesday afternoon. Grimm, who was indicted in April on 20 counts of fraud and tax evasion stemming from a health food store he once owned, is apparently going to try to keep his seat in Congress. While he said during his re-election campaign that he would resign if “unable to serve,” initial reports indicate the Republican congressman does not think his conviction should keep him from serving his constituents in New York’s 13th District.

The news that Grimm was set to plead guilty sent shockwaves through the leadership of the Republican Party on Staten Island. The two-term congressman cruised to re-election in November despite the ethical allegations swirling around him, besting former city council member Domenic Recchia by 12 points. Grimm had planned on regaining his Financial Services Committee membership, which he gave up under pressure when he was first indicted. Grimm has even been actively trying hire staff members for his office in recent weeks after several former aides deserted him.

Reached by phone after news of Grimm’s plea broke online, Guy Molinari, a longtime Island powerbroker and personal patron of Grimm’s, said he had not heard the news and declined to comment. The office of House Speaker John Boehner also declined to comment. John Antoniello, the chairman of the Staten Island Republican Party, said he had not been informed either but that the party continues to support Grimm.

Meanwhile, politicos were already trying to figure out their next play. Some Staten Islanders predicted that Boehner would only try to oust Grimm if he thought that the seat was likely to stay in Republican hands—a good prospect, many analysts suggested, considering Grimm’s easy win the last time.

The name that most Republicans seem both to expect and dread to consider running is Vito Fossella. The former congressman, a longtime fixture in Staten Island politics, stepped down when it was revealed after a drunk driving arrest that he had a second family in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. The Republican has frequently sparred with Grimm and thought about running in 2014, but it remains to be seen whether Fossella can withstand the scrutiny of another run, even in an era when scandal-scarred New York pols like Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer have come back to run again.

“Does he have the balls to run again after someone resigns over ethical issues?” asked one Staten Island Democrat.

Daniel Donovan, the well-regarded Staten Island district attorney who has come under criticism for failing to win an indictment in the Eric Garner case, is not widely thought to want to leave his post.

On the Democratic side, many expect former Rep. Mike McMahon to make another run at the seat. McMahon took over when Fossella resigned but was edged aside two years later by Grimm in the Tea Party wave election year of 2010.

Neither McMahon nor Fossella returned calls for comment.

In the meantime, Grimm faces no legal pressure to leave office. There is no requirement for a member of Congress to resign after pleading guilty to a felony. However, House Rule XXIII suggests that a representative who has been convicted of an offense that may result in at least two years’ imprisonment should “refrain from voting.” A report by the Congressional Research Service notes that members are “expected to abide” by this rule, even though it is technically advisory.  Tax evasion carries a maximum penalty of five years, and thus it seems likely that Grimm would be covered by the provision. Tom Rust, a spokesman for the House Ethics Committee, declined to comment to The Daily Beast.

Grimm could be forced from office if he is expelled by a two-thirds vote of the House. The penalty is only rarely imposed, as members often resign before they can be voted out of Congress. Only two members of the House have been expelled since the Civil War, and no one has ever been expelled for a felony committed prior to serving in Congress. As the Congressional Research Service notes, an offense leading to expulsion “has historically involved either disloyalty to the United States or the violation of a criminal law involving the abuse of one’s official position, such as bribery.” Interestingly, if Grimm is expelled, he is not legally prohibited from running in the special election for his seat. And if he is re-elected, the House advisory rules prohibiting him from voting no longer apply.

Should Grimm choose to fight back under those circumstances, he would likely have an easy go of it on Staten Island, considering his clear win in November and the fact that he is pleading guilty to a lesser charge. “Voters knew about this and seemed not to care,” said Roy Moskowitz, a leading Democratic consultant on Staten Island.

Still, his conviction will restart a House Ethics Committee investigation into his actions. The bipartisan committee had originally started to probe Grimm in 2012 but had then deferred any action after a request by the Justice Department. Once Grimm has pleaded guilty, it is unlikely the Justice Department will have any qualms about the House Ethics Committee resuming its investigation. Further, the committee’s rules mandate that it “shall” begin an investigation as soon as a member of Congress is sentenced in federal court.

The conviction won’t be Grimm’s first brush with notoriety. The congressman has been investigated in the past for campaign finance irregularities involving an Israeli businessman who allegedly illegally funneled money to Grimm’s campaign. He also sparked controversy earlier in 2014 when he threatened a reporter on live television after President Obama’s State of the Union address by saying, “I’ll break you in half. Like a boy.”

 

By: Ben Jacobs and David Freedlandlander, The Daily Beast, December 22, 2014

December 23, 2014 Posted by | Congress, Felons, Michael Grimm | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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