Judge rules Florida can't block felons from registering to vote because of unpaid fines

A federal judge in Florida ruled Sunday that the state's law restricting felons from voting if they have unpaid court fees or other fines was unconstitutional.

In court documents obtained by the Campaign Legal Center, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, a Clinton appointee, argued that the state's requirement essentially amounted to a poll tax targeting formerly incarcerated Floridians.

"The Twenty-Fourth Amendment precludes Florida from conditioning voting in federal elections on payment of these fees and costs," Hinkle wrote. "And because the Supreme Court has held, in effect, that what the Twenty-Fourth Amendment prescribes for federal elections, the Equal Protection Clause requires for state elections, Florida also cannot condition voting in state elections on payment of these fees and costs."

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Hinkle's order did not, however, side with plaintiffs who argued that Florida's officials implemented the law with racial bias in mind. Critics of restrictions on voting rights for felons frequently point out that African Americans in particular are incarcerated at a much higher rate than white Americans.

"On balance, I find that SB7066 was not motivated by race," wrote Hinkle.

State Republicans pushed through the law establishing restrictions on voting rights for felons last April, while Democrats in the state argued at the time that the law would be found unconstitutional. Sunday's ruling follows a similar ruling in the plaintiffs' favor in February in a federal appeals court.

"They couldn’t help themselves in Tallahassee. The Legislature decided to take this [amendment] meant to help people cast their vote and put a poll tax on top of it," said Rep. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchUS lawmakers call on EU to label entire Hezbollah a terrorist organization 189 House Democrats urge Israel to 'reconsider' annexation Partisan divide on annexation complicates US-Israel relationship MORE (D-Fla.) at the time.