Getting Sheened at the Ballot Box

Charlie Sheen is deserving of our attention. Okay, not the actor, exactly, but the nuances of his latest bout of woe. As the good folks at TMZ report, Warner Bros. has finally booted Sheen from "Two and a Half Men" for a litany of offenses, but in particular for ultimately breaking a provision in his contract that makes him fireable for offenses that, in the opinion of the producer, constitute "moral turpitude." Admitting to the abuse of several women over the years seems to have been permissible behavior, but the same can't be said for indulging publicly in a cocaine addiction (not to mention bad mouthing your show runner and ranting in public about tiger blood). The line of turpitudinous, she's a fuzzy one.

Which is where Sheen becomes a reminder of something rather more important, and that's that moral turpitude, while sounding like a holdover from the Victorian era, also happens to be the ambiguous standard by which some states in the union judge whether someone once convicted of a felony can ever cast a vote in a public election again [pdf]. Alabama in particular has been wrestling for years with what crimes count. (Rape seems to be permanently disqualifying, assault not, but something like receiving stolen property is an open question.) The life-altering discretion gets left not with a major corporation or public opinion, but with local authorities in a state where the interpretation of voting laws has been racially abusive well into the modern era. Maybe that's an issue that Charlie Sheen wants to get in front of in his new spare time.

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