For two decades, the centuries-old tradition of corrupt politicians holding public office in Louisiana had been stymied by a constitutional amendment banning convicted felons from holding state or local office for 15 years after the completion of their prison sentences.
As a result, an entire generation of Louisiana voters have had to settle for candidates whose resumes woefully lacked a felony conviction.
But now, thanks to one brave, dogged felon who exposed a legal loophole, Louisiana voters can once again elect leaders who’ve been duly recognized by the judicial system for their felonious ways.
Former state Sen. Derrick Shepherd may not have been allowed to run for a seat in the House of Representatives last fall, but he’s still a winner in our eyes, as well as in the eyes of the state Supreme Court.
Shepherd had filed to run for House District 87 last year but was disqualified because of a measly money laundering conviction. In 2008, while serving as a state senator, he pleaded guilty to conspiring with an unlicensed broker and accepting $141,000 from the sale of fake bonds. Like the old saying goes, if you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’.
However, Shepherd must’ve used his two years in federal prison to study the fine print of the acts of the state legislature and the ballots voters saw in voting machines. Shepherd argued the version of the constitutional amendment passed by a 2/3 majority in both houses of the Legislature was not the same version of the amendment voters approved at the polls, therefore making it invalid.
“The amendment was not properly enacted,” thus giving Shepherd and all of his fellow felons a chance to finally take their rightful place in the state Legislature, various city halls, and wherever the people of Louisiana may need them and their questionable moral compasses.
In fact, the final version sent before voters was missing an entire clause exempting felons who had only served probation, as opposed to jail time. And even though that absent wording didn’t pertain to him, Shepherd claimed the whole provision was bogus since what the people ratified in 1997 didn’t exactly match up with what the Legislature approved.
Determined to represent most of the West Bank of New Orleans with his felonious talents, Shepherd immediately challenged his disqualification, not just in one state district court, but in two. He mounted a legal challenge in the 24th Judicial District Court in Jefferson Parish, wherein District 87 lies, and in Baton Rouge’s 19th Judicial District Court, where his case was heard by Judge Wilson Fields.
Shepherd’s hopes of representing the 87th district — and all convicted Louisiana felons — were initially bolstered when Fields ruled the amendment unconstitutional. However, the state immediately appealed that verdict directly to the state Supreme Court.
Just days earlier, 24th Judicial District Judge Stephen Enright upheld Shepherd’s disqualification. A few days later, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeal upheld Enright’s ruling.
Sadly for Shepherd and the people of District 87, the Louisiana State Supreme Court refused to take on the case before election day, and he wasn’t on the ballot. But when the high court did hear the case this week, only one justice dissented from the majority ruling that “the amendment was not properly enacted,” thus giving Shepherd and all of his fellow felons a chance to finally take their rightful place in the state Legislature, various city halls, and wherever the people of Louisiana may need them and their questionable moral compasses.
And make no mistake about it: Louisiana needs bona fide felons in office. For instance, you know who could’ve probably caught the inconsistency between the two versions of that 1997 amendment that ultimately led to the provision’s demise? A convicted felon. If you disagree, just look at who discovered it: a convicted felon by the name of Derrick Shepherd.