Court Battles

Court sides with ex-felons who challenged Florida voting requirement

A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld an injunction of a Florida law that barred ex-felons from voting if they had not paid fines and other fees related to their sentences.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit agreed with a previous district court’s rule halting the law, which was passed by state Republicans in 2019 after a constitutional amendment went through the year prior enfranchising former felons. The three-judge panel ruled that the law violates the Equal Protection Clause because it unconstitutionally bars a class of felons from voting based only on their wealth

“It is undeniable that the [law’s legal financial obligation] requirement punishes those who cannot pay more harshly than those who can,” the appeals court said Wednesday. “We affirm the district court’s preliminary injunction enjoining the defendants … from preventing the plaintiffs from voting based solely on their genuine inability to pay legal financial obligations.” 

The amendment to Florida’s constitution was first passed in the 2018 midterms, with nearly 65 percent of voters choosing to allow 1.4 million convicted felons to vote following their release from incarceration.

However, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a bill in June mandating that the former convicts pay off restitution, court fees and fines before regaining the right to vote, sparking criticism from opponents who said the law amounted to a poll tax.

Florida’s Supreme Court upheld the law, but the federal district court intervened and issued its injunction, ruling in favor of 17 former felons who sued the state. DeSantis followed up by appealing the district court’s decision.

Several groups, including the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, the Orange County branch of the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters of Florida, have slammed DeSantis over the bill, saying it and the past ban disproportionately affected people of color. 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida, which helped present the case on behalf of the former felons, celebrated the appeals court’s ruling, saying “This is a huge victory for our brave clients!”

“The Voting Restoration Amendment passed with 5.2 million votes and was one of the largest expansions of voting rights in United States history,”  added Daniel Tilley, legal director of the ACLU of Florida. “Despite the state’s best efforts to dismantle Amendment 4 through SB7066, today’s ruling affirms what Floridians intended when they passed Amendment 4 — to restore to returning citizens their right to vote.” 

Tags ACLU American Civil Liberties Union Felony disenfranchisement NAACP Ron DeSantis voting rights
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