Saturday, April 23, 2016

Virginia, felons and voting rights

Time to take a break from Trump.  'cuz, you know, I can quit talking about him any time I want.  I don't have a problem...

Let's talk about Virginia.  Terry McCauliffe just issued a clemency order restoring voting rights for ex-felons in Virginia.  To the left, this is about restoring basic rights to those who have served their time and should be allowed to reintegrate into civil society with basic rights.  To the right, this is an attempt to add a large number of probably Democratic voters into the electorate, with the potential to swing a swing state, and therefore nakedly political.

And maybe they're both right.  Buzzword time.  "Motivated reasoning."  This is the psychologists' term for the observation that if a claim would benefit you, you are more likely to accept arguments in its favor.  A disproportionate number of ex-felons are non-white.  Most non-whites vote for Democrats.  Re-enfranchising ex-felons, therefore, would likely provide at least some electoral benefit to Democrats.  Therefore, a Democrat engaged in motivated reasoning will believe that ex-felons must have their voting rights restored as a matter of basic justice.  A Republican engaged in motivated reasoning will believe that voting is about power in society, and felons, ex- or not, have demonstrated a lack of the kind of civic-mindedness that voters must have.  How much power should ex-felons have over those who do follow the rules?

Should felons have their voting rights restored?  Umm, that's a normative question.  I suck at those.  So here's something to piss off the liberals.  Hypocrisy bugs me.

There are parts of the Constitution that conservatives hate (like the 14th Amendment) and parts that the liberals hate (like the 2nd Amendment).  Let's review that latter part.

"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

Wow, whoever wrote that gets an F in composition!  (Sorry, I am a professor).  Does that mean that individuals have a right to bear arms that shall not be infringed, or does that mean well-regulated militias can arm themselves?  Motivated reasoning time!  If you don't like guns, the latter.  If you like guns, the former.  Why?  'cuz the Constitution is obviously a document written by people who agreed with me ideologically!  Duh!

So, the liberal take on guns is that there is really no individual right to bear arms.  Doesn't exist.  But how dare you think we're trying to take away everyone's guns!  We just want background checks!  And, also, Australia did something awesome by taking everyone's guns away!  But how dare you accuse me of wanting to do that awesome thing Australia did?!  Did I mention how awesome it was?

What does this have to do with Virginia?  Simple.  Ask your friendly neighborhood liberal whether or not they think ex-felons who have served their time should be allowed to own guns.  Their answer?  You know already.  Fuck no!  No guns for ex-felons!  They lose that right permanently!

So here's the hypocrisy.  Once a felon has served his or her time, that person should have full rights restored.  That's the liberal line on voting rights for felons.  Notice, though, that they don't want to apply that reasoning to guns.

But the 2nd Amendment isn't about individual rights, the liberal will say!  Well, where in the Constitution does it say that there is a fundamental right to vote?  Umm, nowhere!  The Constitution says that voting rights cannot be denied on certain bases, like race, sex, or age (for those over 18), but it doesn't say "the right to vote shall not be infringed."  It ain't there.  Should it be?  Maybe.  Go ahead and make that argument, but right now, it isn't.  The second amendment is vague and badly written, but there is clearer language on a fundamental right to own guns than on a fundamental right to vote.  If the principle is that an ex-felon who has completed his or her sentence must have full rights restored, there is a clearer case for guns than voting rights in the actual text of the Constitution.

What's my position on felon voting rights?  I really don't have one.  I can see a case either way.  But, McCauliffe's decision is likely a) sincerely reflective of a belief in constitutional principles, b) influenced by his partisan leanings, c) hypocritical, or d) all of the above.

D.  All of the above.

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