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Unformatted text preview: Liberal and Republican Arguments Against the Disenfranchisement of Felons / 3 A R TIC LES Liberal and Republican Arguments Against the Disenfranchisement of Felons JEFFREY REIMAN In the United States today, 4.7 niillion citizens—more than two percent of the adult population—are deprived of the right to vote because they have been convicted of a felony. Of these, 1.7 million have completed their sentences and are no longer under any form of criminal justice supervision.' I shall argue that disenfranchisement of offenders who have completed their sentences is morally wrong, and that enfranchising all offenders—even those in prison—would be good social policy. Arguments about felony disenfranchisement are often framed along the lines of classical liberal and classical republican theories of citizenship, and I will follow this practice. The standard classical liberal argument for disenfranchisement of convicted felons is that criminals violate the social contract, and thereby forfeit the political rights to which the contract entitles them. I will argue that social contract theory does not have this implication and that, in fact, social contract theory shows how fundamental the right to vote is and implies that it is wrong to deny the right to vote to felons who have completed their punishment. The standard classical republican argument for disenfranchisement is that convicted felons lack the civic virtue needed for proper exercise of the vote. I will argue that this claim rests on an Jeffrey Reiman, author o/The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison: Ideology, Class, and Criminal Justice (7th ed., 2004), is William Fraser McDowell Professor of Philosophy, American University. exaggerated notion of how different criminals are from law-abiding people, and that a concern for civic virtue— of criminals and non-criminals—supports granting voting rights to felons, even those who are still in prison. In section I, "Depriving Felons and Ex-Felons of the Vote in the United States," I sketch the current situation and some of its political implications as well as its historical background. In section II, "Philosophical Arguments for Disenfranchising Felons and Ex-Felons," I consider and critique the liberal (social contract) and republican (civic virtue) arguments for the disenfranchise- ment of felons and show that they are unpersuasive. In addition, I give reasons for believing that disenfranchise- ment of felons is not sensible punishment policy. In section III, "Voting and the Social Contract," I argue that the social contract doctrine shows that it is morally wrong to deny the vote to convicted felons who have completed their punishments. In section IV, "Voting and Virtue," I conclude by arguing that it would both exercise and enhance civic virtue to allow convicted felons—even those still in prison—to vote. Section Ill's argument is a classical liberal argument against disenfranchisement of felons who have served their sentences; section IV's...
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- Felony disenfranchisement, Jeffrey Reiman, disenfranchisement