Tennessee Supreme Court Hears Arguments Regarding Convicted Man’s Voting Rights Restoration

The Tennessee Supreme Court heard arguments on Wednesday regarding the voting rights of Ernest Falls, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Virginia in 1986.

Falls’ attorney, Bill Harbison, argued for Falls’ right to vote, saying, “A fundamental bedrock interest in this case is that a person who has the fundamental right to vote does not need his rights restored.”

Attorney Bill Harbison argued that there is only one statute in Tennessee that addresses the loss of the right to vote for an out of state conviction – statute § 2-19-143.

Statute § 2-19-143 states, “No person who has been convicted in another state of a crime or offense which would constitute an infamous crime under the laws of this state, regardless of the sentence imposed, shall be allowed to register to vote or vote at any election in this state, unless such person has been pardoned or restored to the rights of citizenship by governor or other appropriate authority of such other state, or the person’s full rights of citizenship have otherwise been restored in accordance with the laws of such other state, or the law of this state.”

Ernest Falls was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Virginia in 1986. After serving his sentence, Falls moved to Tennessee in 2018. The governor of Virginia restored Falls’ rights, including the right to vote, in February 2020. After attempting to register to vote in Tennessee, Falls was denied registration for failing to provide evidence that he had paid his restitution and fees in relation to his conviction.

According to the State of Tennessee Office of the Attorney General, the Tennessee Code Annotated § 40-29-202 states, “Tennessee Code Annotated § 40-29-202 requires all convicted felons, including individuals convicted in other States or in federal court, to satisfy outstanding debts arising from court costs, court-ordered restitution, and child support obligations before they are eligible to apply.”

When the case was brought to the Tennessee Supreme Court, Assistant Attorney General Alex Rieger argued that the court precedent allows Tennessee to require that Falls has fulfilled his court costs in his state of residence, even if his rights have been fully restored in another state.

“The state’s position is straightforward here,” said Attorney General Rieger.

In 2020, Falls sued Tennessee in attempt to vote in the local primary elections.

Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs denied the appeal, saying, “Until the Plaintiffs meet the same requirements as Tennessee felons seeking reinstatement of their right to vote, Tennessee law does not require that Tennessee reach the same result as Virginia’s Governor or North Carolina’s Legislature – nor does the Tennessee Constitution.”

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Kaitlyn Osteen is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. Send Kaitlyn news tips to [email protected].
Photo “Tennessee Supreme Court” by Thomas R Machnitzki. CC BY-SA 3.0.




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One Thought to “Tennessee Supreme Court Hears Arguments Regarding Convicted Man’s Voting Rights Restoration”

  1. 83ragtop50

    What about no being allowed to vote do this person and his lawyer fail to understand?