Federal judge rules Florida voting limits had ‘intent to discriminate against Black voters’

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A federal judge in Florida issued a forceful ruling Thursday that blocked parts of Florida’s controversial election law, finding that some of the GOP-crafted restrictions it contained were passed “with the intent to discriminate against Black voters.”

In a 288-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker invalidated certain limits the law placed on ballot drop boxes, voter registration by third parties and the distributing of water to those waiting in line to vote, determining the restrictions violated the Voting Rights Act and constitutional protections. 

“At some point, when the Florida Legislature passes law after law disproportionately burdening Black voters, this Court can no longer accept that the effect is incidental,” wrote Walker, an Obama appointee to the federal bench in Tallahassee. “Based on the indisputable pattern set out above, this Court finds that, in the past 20 years, Florida has repeatedly sought to make voting tougher for Black voters because of their propensity to favor Democratic candidates.”

Florida’s Senate Bill 90 has been the subject of intense court fighting since being signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) last May following a near party-line vote in the state’s GOP-held legislature, with supporters arguing the tighter restrictions were needed to ensure election integrity and bolster voter confidence. 

Civil rights groups and other critics blasted the measure as a cynical ploy to suppress likely Democratic voters, including racial minorities, using former President Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election being subject to widespread fraud as a pretext.   

Judge Walker, in addition to blocking the Florida voting restrictions at issue, said that over the next decade the state must get the federal government’s approval — through a practice known as “preclearance” — before attempting to enact new limits on absentee ballot drop boxes, voter registration and the distribution of food or water to those waiting in line to vote.

In his decision, Walker fired a shot across the bow of the 6-3 conservative majority Supreme Court, citing to its recent voting rights decisions and noting that “the right to vote, and the (Voting Rights Act) particularly, are under siege.”

“Federal courts must not lose sight of the spirit that spurred the VRA’s passage,” Walker wrote, referring to the Voting Rights Act. “In June 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote a letter to the New York Amsterdam News urging Congress to pass the VRA. In it, he wrote that ‘to deny a person the right to exercise his political freedom at the polls is no less a dastardly act as to deny a Christian the right to petition God in prayer.’”

“Federal courts would not countenance a law denying Christians their sacred right to prayer,” Walker added, “and they should not countenance a law denying Floridians their sacred right to vote.”

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