State of Kentucky

Kentucky Voting Rights Restoration Scheme Challenge 

Lostutter v. Beshear

Lawsuit filed by eight disenfranchised individuals with prior felony convictions challenging Kentucky’s voting rights restoration scheme that denies voting rights to all convicted felons unless they successfully petition for the restoration of their rights. Under Kentucky law, the governor has the sole discretion to grant or deny rights restoration to former felons who apply to be re-enfranchised. The plaintiffs allege that “are no laws, rules, or criteria regulating the Governor’s decisions to grant or deny restoration applications and, as such, the scheme runs afoul of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” The plaintiffs argue that because applicants may be granted or denied rights restoration for “any reason,” the lack of objective standards for rights restoration “opens the door to political, viewpoint, racial, religious, wealth, and any other type of discrimination.” Additionally, the complaint notes that there is no definite time limit for the governor to act on a rights restoration application, meaning that there is a backlog of pending applications that are “held in limbo by the Governor’s office, without any final decision.” The plaintiffs ask the court to block this allegedly arbitrary rights restoration scheme and request that the court declare the challenged scheme in violation of the First Amendment. 

In December 2019, Gov. Andy Beshear (D) issued an executive order that automatically restores the right to vote to Kentuckians convicted of certain state felony convictions who completed their sentences. Following this order, the court dismissed the case as moot, which the plaintiffs appealed to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. On appeal, the plaintiffs contended that while the executive order restored voting rights to certain Kentuckians, it still excluded those with non-qualifying Kentucky state felony convictions, out-of-state felony convictions and federal felony convictions. On Oct. 4, 2021, the 6th Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision dismissing the case as moot, thereby allowing litigation to continue in the district court. 

Subsequently on remand, the district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims, holding that they lack standing (meaning capacity to sue) and that their First Amendment rights are not violated by the challenged scheme. The plaintiffs once again appealed the dismissal to the 6th Circuit, where oral argument is set for June 22, 2023. On July 20, the 6th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the lawsuit.

On Aug. 3, the plaintiffs petitioned the 6th Circuit for rehearing en banc, which was denied on Aug. 31, 2023.

On Nov. 29, the plaintiffs petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari. On Feb. 20, 2024, the Court denied the plaintiffs’ petition.

Case Documents (district court)

Case Documents (6th circuit)

Case Documents (U.S. Supreme Court)

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