John Hinckley, who tried to kill Ronald Reagan in 1981, is headed to the voting both this November — quite possibly as a Democrat — to help select the next president of the United States.
Barry Levine, Hinckley’s lawyer, tells the Washington Times that he expects his client to register to vote in Virginia, where a judge just ruled he could live with his mother full-time, upon release this month after decades of confinement at St. Elizabeth’s Mental Hospital
“Surely nothing about this case” will keep Hinckley from the polls, Levine argued. “I suspect he’ll register to vote.”
Hinckley, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity, actually made numerous unsuccessful attempts to register while at St. Elizabeth’s mental hospital, including at least once as a Democrat.
But the Virginia Department of Elections backs Levine’s argument that nothing should preclude him from voting now as a legal resident at his mother’s home in Williamsburg. He was previously only allowed out to stay there for short intervals.
Virginia law says, “that no person adjudicated to be mentally incompetent shall be qualified to vote until his competency has been re-established.”
But Hinckley was never found “mentally incompetent” or convicted of a felony, grounds for disenfranchisement in Virginia. So he is good to go, Levine contends. “He was, in the plainest words, found not guilty. Now he was found not guilty on a mental health defense but he was acquitted.”
“Unlike sanity, competency is the ability to understand the charges against you and to cooperate with counsel in the defense,” Levine said. “He’s never been deemed incompetent.”
Last month, U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman ordered Hinckley to be totally released on August 5.
But with numerous restrictions, including not talking to the press, Jodie Foster or Reagan’s family; no use of Twitter, Facebook or any social media; and, in a blow to Second Amendment supporters, he can’t buy a guy.
Friedman’s rationale was that Hinckley no longer suffers from the psychiatric disorders for which he was confined and is no longer dangerous to himself or others. The ensuing criticism of Friedman, a Bill Clinton appointee, as some kind of naïve liberal judge who’s soft on hardened criminals was kind of ignorant.
It is likely to intensify if word circulates that Hinckley is headed to the polls. True to typical DC journalistic sloth, this fascinating and exhaustively reported story has gone virtually unnoticed.
But, hey, for insular liberal DC journalists nothing is a story — not even apparently the first person in American history to shoot a president but still get to vote — unless one of their friends already reported it. Plus, this story is more likely to embarrass Hillary Clinton and Democrats than Donald Trump so that is additional incentive to ignore it.
Still, here are some things to consider whenever fancy pants journalists decide to bring this to wider attention.
Hinckley, rightly or wrongly, was not convicted of any crime. Yes, it is hugely ironic that he can vote in November. But to paraphrase Slate founding editor Michael Kinsley, irony is not logic.
Far from an activist judge, Friedman just rigorously followed established case law, however dopey it might be and foolish the results.
In her detailed story, Washington Times reporter Andrea Noble recounts Hinckley’s determination to register to vote since shortly after he was confined to St. Elizabeth’s. In 1984, he complained in a letter to The Washington Post about not being able to get an absentee ballot for his native Colorado.
“In the past two years I have become much more politically aware and I can now see what’s going on in this country. But I can’t speak out or vote to try to change the system because the hospital and government won’t let me.”
The District refused to let him register in 1984, 1986 and 1990 solely on the grounds that he lacked residency. According to the Washington Times, in 1990, Hinckley was actually “mistakenly” given a voter form and “mailed in a Democratic voter registration from St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.”
Hinckley sued the DC Board of Elections but lost in 1992.
David Dupree, ho represented him, recalled to the Washington Times that, “The only place he had a connection with was the District of Columbia but they determined because he was not placed there under his own volition that he could not establish residency. If they said he wasn’t a resident of the District, where was he a resident of? That was the issue to me.”
Despite the official Aug 5 release date Hinckley remains at St. Elizabeth’s because of unspecified “administrative matters” entirely unrelated to the voting issue.
Levine says he has no idea what political views, if any, Hinckley holds. “We haven’t discussed his politics in that regard or whether he has an interest. I would suspect every American has an interest in this election.”
True enough, but given his Herculean efforts to vote as a Democrat in 1990, maybe the subsequent emergence of MSNBC in 1996 has encouraged Hinckley to lean forward, per the channel’s catch phrase, even more.
Democratic National Committee Interim Chair Donna Brazile, who previously refused to disavow the Communist Party endorsement of Hillary, did not respond to an inquiry about whether she would welcome Hinckley into her party given their eagerness to register new voters.