Ernest Falls et al. v. Mark Goins et al.

Case Number

In this appeal, we consider the interplay and applicability of two statutes that relate to suffrage rights of Tennessee residents previously convicted of infamous crimes in other states. Although the Tennessee Constitution recognizes the importance of the right of its residents to vote, the Constitution also allows the General Assembly to restrict the right of a person to vote “upon a conviction by a jury of some infamous crime, previously ascertained and declared by law, and judgment thereon by court of competent jurisdiction.” Tenn. Const. art. I, § 5. Ernest Falls, a resident of Tennessee since 2018, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Virginia in 1986, an infamous crime under the laws of Tennessee. In 2020, Mr. Falls was granted clemency in Virginia by then-Governor Ralph Northam. The grant of clemency reinstated Mr. Falls’ rights of citizenship in Virginia, including his right to vote. Subsequently, Mr. Falls attempted to register to vote in Grainger County, Tennessee, in June of 2020. The Grainger County Election Commission denied his restoration of voting rights request and cited “Incomplete/Insufficient Document(s)” as the reasoning for the denial. Mr. Falls and a co-plaintiff, who was left off the voter rolls under similar circumstances, filed a lawsuit in the Chancery Court for Davidson County, arguing that Tennessee Code Annotated section 2-19-143(3) requires the state to re-enfranchise persons convicted of out-of-state infamous crimes as soon as said persons are “pardoned or restored to the rights of citizenship by the governor or other appropriate authority of such other state.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-19-143(3) (2014). Respondents, three public employees sued in their official capacity, countered that Mr. Falls also is required to comply with requirements set forth in another statutory provision, Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-29-202, which requires that persons convicted of infamous crimes pay outstanding court costs, restitution, and child support obligations before they can be re-enfranchised. Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-29-202 (2018). The Chancery Court granted summary judgment in favor of the three state officials, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the grant of summary judgment with Mr. Falls acting as the sole remaining plaintiff. Like the Court of Appeals, we affirm the grant of summary judgment and conclude that, in order to regain the right of suffrage in Tennessee, Mr. Falls and other similarly situated individuals must comply with both section 2-19-143(3) and the additional requirements set forth in section 40-29-202.

Authoring Judge
Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Originating Judge
Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle
Date Filed
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