During my two decades as a district court judge in Williamson County, thousands of cases from civil issues to truly horrific murders came through my courtroom. I’ve put killers, kidnappers, rapists and abusers behind bars, and I believe the world is a better place for it.
Recently, presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said something that I couldn’t believe, and as a former judge, I certainly disagree with.
During a CNN town hall, a Harvard student asked Sanders if he thought felons should be allowed to vote while they’re incarcerated. When the student pressed whether it was appropriate to empower sexual offenders — or those convicted of truly heinous crimes, like the Boston Marathon Bomber — with the right to choose their elected officials, Sanders responded that “yes, even terrible people” should have the right to vote in prison.
One of the most shocking cases I ever had in my courtroom was Genene Jones. She is a murderer believed to be responsible for several infant deaths. Jones was convicted for the death of a 15-month-old girl, Chelsea McClellan. She injected the infant with a fatal dose of succinylcholine chloride, a drug typically used to help with tracheal intubation that causes temporary paralysis. The little girl stopped breathing and was unable to be revived by medical professionals.
Genene Jones is just one example of the evil that came through my courtroom during my time on the bench. Her crimes are monstrous, as are the Boston Marathon Bombers that were referred to in the question posed to Sanders. The Tsarnaev brothers killed three and injured hundreds. Somehow, Sanders still believes that people like Jones and Tsarnaev, truly evil people, deserve the right to vote.
When these individuals committed their crimes, it was a voluntary action. They, along with every other criminal, understood that they could be punished by the criminal justice system, and that punishment can range on severity. It could be probation, prison time or even the death penalty in some states.
Nobody forces a criminal to commit a crime. It was a decision, and that decision has consequences in a just system. Not being able to participate in our democracy should be one of those consequences.
If you murder your fellow man, abuse a child, commit a terrorist act or commit any other crime that has landed you in prison, you should not have the ability to vote while serving your time.
Currently, there are two states, Vermont and Maine, that allow convicted felons to vote while incarcerated. That means murderers, sexual abusers and violent criminals can vote for the people who write the laws.
Besides that fact, Maine and Vermont’s decision to allow offenders to maintain their voting rights while incarcerated goes against the entire point of prison. It is supposed to be a consequence resulting in a loss of freedom and liberty, and that should include the loss of voting abilities.
Our democracy truly is one of the great inventions of all time. It puts decision making into the hands of the people by allowing them a direct say in who represents their interests at the local, state and federal level. Granting felons the ability to participate in our democracy and make decisions on behalf of our communities and our country is a mistake. It’s giving influence to a group of individuals that aren’t actively in the community and do not experience the consequences of their vote.
Democracy is the greatest human experiment, and terrorists like the Boston Marathon bomber should not be able to participate in it.
Rep. Carter represents Texas District 31, which includes Fort Hood, the largest active duty armored military installation in the free world. He serves as co-chairman of the Congressional Army Caucus and Ranking Member of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Appropriations. Prior to his service in the United States House, John Carter was Judge of the 277th District Court in Williamson County for 20 years.
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