Coverage of Missouri Guardianship-Voting Argument
Lawyers arguing a challenge to Missouri election law before a federal appeals court panel here disagreed Monday whether the state denies voting rights to some mentally ill people.
The lawyer for a mentally ill man in Kansas City said the Missouri Constitution and state law deny voting rights to Missourians assigned a guardian because of "mental incapacity."
Anti-discrimination law expert Samuel Bagenstos conceded that some counties have ordered individual assessments of those under guardianship to determine their competence to vote. But, he said, they have no authority, and are under no obligation to do so.
Bagenstos wants the court to declare what he calls the voting ban unconstitutional and in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Ultimately, he said, it's up to the Legislature to re-shape the law to allow for mentally ill people under guardianship to be assessed individually for voting competency.
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Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who's helping the appeals court this week, was one of three judges who heard the case and will decide its outcome. Her presence drew a packed courtroom.
Speaking from the bench, O'Connor referenced the majority opinion in a 2004 case, Tennessee v. Lane, which sided with paraplegics who claimed they were denied physical access to the state's courts, in violation of the ADA.
O'Connor asked Pritchett if he'd read the Lane decision, which addresses broader access to an individual's fundamental rights.
"I happened to join it," she said of the majority opinion. "I thought it covered voting."
And thanks, by the way, to Howard Bashman for the great PR.