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Monday, July 14, 2014

Statute Barring Felons from Holding Public Office is Constitutional

General Parker filed nominating petitions to run for office on the local school board. The county states attorney filed a quo warranto proceeding to block his candidacy based on his previous conviction of felony theft.  Illinois statute prohibits a "person convicted of an infamous crime...from holding any office of honor, trust, or profit unless such person is again restored to such rights by the terms of a pardon for the offense or otherwise according to law."  10 ILCS 5/29-15.  The states attorney argued that felony theft was an "infamous crime" under that statute and, therefore, Parker was barred from running for elected office on the school board.

Parker argued that the statute barring those convicted of infamous crimes from holding office does not apply to school board members, that the states attorney was selectively enforcing the statute, and that the hearings were unjust.  The circuit court rejected his arguments and ordered Parker's name removed from the ballot.  

While Parker's appeal of the circuit court's decision was pending, he filed another lawsuit in federal court against the state's attorney, the county, and a variety of other defendants claiming that (1) the quo warranto proceeding violated his rights to due process and (2) the state statute violates his constitutional right to run for public office.  The district court dismissed all claims, and the case was appealed to the Seventh Circuit.

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit determined that the state's attorney had absolute prosecutorial immunity in bringing the quo warranto proceeding to enforce the state law.  With respect to Parker's facial challenge to the constitutionality of the state law, the Court found the Illinois statute to be constitutional.  First, the right to run for or hold public office is not a fundamental right, and felons are not a suspect class.  Consequently, a ban on felons running for elective office is valid if it is rationally related to a legitimate state interest.  The state's interest in barring felons from elective office is to ensure "public confidence in the honesty and integrity of those serving in state and local offices."  The U.S. Supreme Court has previously held that states can deprive convicted felons of the right to vote, a right that is fundamental.  The right to run for office is not a fundamental right, so a similar bar would likely pass constitutional muster.  

The Court also rejected Parker's argument that the law has a disproportionate impact on African American men.  The Court was also not persuaded that the ban violates the First Amendment.  

You can read the case at Parker v. Lyons (7th Cir. July 7, 2014)

1 comment:

  1. If I understand correctly, according to the circuit court, no one should be allowed to run for public office if they have committed a crime of infamy, but if a person is allowed to run for and obtain a public office, they are permitted to commit these acts of infamy? I understand the logic behind the circuit court's decision but not allowing someone to hold an office of honor, trust or profit should be the publics decision. I would like to think that if a DA had been in office and acting corruptibly throughout his tenure, a person that committed an offense many years ago and has been acting virtuous sense, would be a better candidate for that position. I do not understand this. Not even the President of the United States is without checks and balances.