NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A significant expansion of voting rights in Mississippi was put in doubt Thursday when a federal appeals court said it’s reconsidering an earlier decision to allow people convicted of certain felonies to cast ballots.
The 5th U.S. Circuit of Appeals said in a Thursday filing that a majority of the appeals court’s 16 active judges would take a new look at the 2-1 decision delivered by a panel on Aug. 4.
Mississippi attorneys, led by state Attorney General Lynn Fitch, a Republican, had asked for the review.
Granting the review means the Aug. 4 decision is vacated.
The Aug. 4 ruling held that denying voting rights violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Mississippi lawyers argued that the panel’s decision would “inflict profound damage and sow widespread confusion.”
If the ruling had been allowed to stand, tens of thousands of people could have regained voting rights, possibly in time for the Nov. 7 general election for governor and other statewide offices. That now appears unlikely. It was unclear how quickly the appeals court would schedule a full-court hearing, how quickly the full court would rule, and whether the court, widely considered among the most conservative of the federal appellate courts, would uphold the panel ruling.
Republican nominees dominate the court, although the majority of those who made the Aug. 4 decision were judges nominated to the court by Democratic presidents: Carolyn Dineen King, nominated by President Jimmy Carter, and James L. Dennis, nominated by President Bill Clinton. Judge Edith Jones, nominated by Republican President Ronald Reagan, strongly dissented.