“It is very important for us, if somebody has served their time, for them to be able to participate in their democracy.” – Barack Obama, August 15, 2011
Last week marked five years on the job, and earlier this week he stated he planned to remain in his position “well into 2014,” which would make him the third longest-serving attorney general in U.S. history should he last into December.
Then on Tuesday, during a speech at Georgetown University, Holder made waves when he announced his strong support for states to repeal laws that forbid felons to vote after they’ve been released from prison.
Holder called such laws “unjust” and stated recidivism would be lower if these laws were abandoned as such felons would be better reintegrated into society.
The attorney general also singled out the particular deleterious impact these laws had on racial minorities.
So where does President Obama stand on this issue?
Smart Politics searched through the president’s speeches and statements over his five-plus years in office and found he has mentioned felons 11 times as president.
During one speech, at a question-and-answer session in Decorah, Iowa in August 2011, the president was asked by an ex-criminal what could be done so he could “move past the past” and “have something better than an entry-level job.”
“Well, there are obviously a bunch of different aspects to the challenges for folks who have some sort of felony record. It affects them economically. It affects them in terms of voting in some States. One of the strengths of America has always been that this is a land of second chances. And as somebody who feels deeply about my faith, one of the things about my Christian faith is that I believe in redemption and second chances. And so as a consequence, I think it is very important for us–first of all, if somebody has served their time, for them to be able to participate in their democracy. And historically, many of these issues in terms of eligibility to vote have been set at the State level as opposed to the Federal level, but the Justice Department at the Federal level does have the capacity and the obligation to monitor what States are doing to make sure that they are not purposely exclusionary. And so we’re going to be monitoring voting rights all across the country as long as I’m President of the United States, because I think that the burden of proof should be on States to provide a rationale as to why somebody shouldn’t be voting, as opposed to the burden of proof on the person not voting as to why they should have a right to vote. That’s my general view. – Remarks at a Town Hall Meeting and a Question-and-Answer Session in Decorah, Iowa (August 15, 2011)
But Obama hasn’t consistently been on the record for giving full rights to felons.
For example, in three separate speeches in 2013, the president spoke about the need for legislation to prevent felons from owning firearms:
“If you want to buy a gun–whether it’s from a licensed dealer or a private seller–you should at least have to show you are not a felon or somebody legally prohibited from buying one.” – Remarks on Gun Violence (January 16, 2013)
“An overwhelming majority of Americans agree that anyone trying to buy a gun should at least have to prove that they’re not a felon or somebody legally prohibited from owning one. That’s just common sense.” – The President’s Weekly Address (January 19, 2013)
“By now, it’s well known that 90 percent of the American people support universal background checks that make it harder for a dangerous person to buy a gun. We’re talking about convicted felons, people convicted of domestic violence, people with a severe mental illness. Ninety percent of Americans support that idea. Most Americans think that’s already the law.” – Remarks on Senate Action on Gun Control Legislation (April 17, 2013)
And when a woman asked Obama four years ago how the ‘system’ could be improved to help people like her brother – who had 33 felonies by the age of 27 – get a job, the president replied frankly:
“Thirty-three felonies is a lot. I mean, that’s a long rap sheet, which means that it’s very–I’m just being realistic. If I’m a business owner, and I’m saying to myself, right now the unemployment rate is 10 percent, so there are a whole lot of folks who’ve never been to jail who are looking for a job, it’s hard for me to say, I’ll choose the guy who went to jail instead of the person who never went to jail and has been laid off.” – Remarks at a Town Hall Meeting and a Question-and-Answer Session in Tampa, Florida (January 28, 2010)
It will be interesting to see if Obama is asked directly at his next news conference to confirm his positions that felons should be allowed to vote, not be allowed to own guns, and not be shocked if they aren’t hired as a result of their conviction.
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