Supreme Court Sides With Florida GOP to Block Ex-Felons from Voting
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court turned down an emergency appeal from voting rights lawyers Thursday, leaving in place what a federal judge in Florida called an unconstitutional “pay-to-vote system” that could prevent hundreds of thousands of ex-felons from casting a ballot this fall.
The decision means Florida residents with previous felony convictions will not be allowed to vote in next month’s primary election and may not able to register for the November election unless they can show they have paid all fees, fines or other debts from their past crimes.
“This court’s order prevents thousands of otherwise eligible voters from participating in Florida’s primary election simply because they are poor,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in a dissent joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan. The court’s “inaction continues a trend of condoning disfranchisement,” she said.
Sotomayor noted the court’s conservatives earlier this year issued emergency orders to block judges’ rulings in Wisconsin and Alabama that would have made it easier for voters to cast ballots by mail so as to avoid exposure to the coronavirus.
In the Florida case, however, they were unwilling to lift a brief appeals court order handed down on July 1 that blocked a judge’s ruling that would have cleared the way for an estimated 774,000 Floridians to restore their right to vote.
The legal dispute over who can vote in Florida has national implications because the state is often a battleground in a presidential election.
Two years ago, nearly 65% of Florida’s voters approved a state constitutional amendment to restore voting rights for residents with past felony convictions “upon completion of all terms of sentence, including parole or probation.” But Republican lawmakers with the backing of Gov. Ron DeSantis passed a bill to redefine the terms of a sentence to include all fees, fines and restitution associated with the past conviction.
However, the state does not have an apparent duty to research and disclose what fees or fines may be owed, and it has not done so. But it is nevertheless threatening prisoners with a criminal prosecution if they register and vote with outstanding debts.
Voting rights lawyers argued this system was unconstitutional for two reasons. They said it violated due process of law because prospective voters were not told and could not learn what they must pay to become eligible to vote. They also said it violates the 24th Amendment adopted in 1964 that said the right to vote may not be “denied or abridged by … any state by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.”
U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle agreed with the challengers and put the state law on hold last year. And after a trial in May, he ruled it was unconstitutional to block Floridians from voting solely because they were unable to pay past debts or fines.
But the governor appealed to the full 11th Circuit Court in Atlanta. The court on July 1 issued a one-paragraph order that put the judge’s ruling on hold, but gave no further reasons. The appeals court is expected to hear arguments next month.
Last week, lawyers for the Campaign Legal Center, the ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed an emergency appeal asking the Supreme Court to intervene. They noted the court in the past had blocked last-minute judicial orders that could disrupt an election. And they noted the deadline to register to vote in Florida’s primary is July 20.
But the appeal in Raysor vs. DeSantis was denied, with no comment or explanation from the majority.
“This is a deeply disappointing decision,” said Paul Smith, lawyer for the CLC. “Florida’s voters spoke loud and clear when nearly two-thirds of them supported rights restoration at the ballot box in 2018. The Supreme Court stood by as the 11th Circuit prevented hundreds of thousands of otherwise eligible voters from participating in Florida’s primary election simply because they can’t afford to pay fines and fees.”
Julie Ebenstein, an ACLU attorney, said the case is not over. “The courts have repeatedly ruled the Florida law is unconstitutional,” she said. “We are hopeful that the appellate court will uphold the trial court’s decision, protecting the right to vote for hundreds of thousands of Floridians in time for the November election.”
©2020 Los Angeles Times
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
In The News
In The News
WHEATLAND, Iowa - Democrat Rita Hart is challenging the vote totals in Iowa's 2nd Congressional District, two days after a state board certified Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks the winner in a contest that came down to just six votes. The race is the closest federal election in... Read More
WASHINGTON - The first session of the 117th Congress will convene at noon on a Sunday in January and have an extra-long August recess, according to the House calendar released by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on Wednesday. And of course, the chamber will continue its current... Read More
WASHINGTON -- Reps. Stephanie Murphy, of Florida, and Jimmy Panetta, of California, have been named chief deputy whips for the 11th Congress, House Majority Whip James Clyburn announced Wednesday. In addition, Clyburn announced that Reps. G.K. Butterfield, of North Carolina, and Jan Schakowsky, of Illinois, have... Read More
WASHINGTON -- As part of the official launch of its Academic Leaders Task Force on Campus Free Expression Initiative, the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, D.C., think tank dedicated to bipartisanship, hosted a roundtable discussion on campus free expression faced by today’s education leaders featuring members... Read More
WASHINGTON — Congress will emerge from the Trump administration with weakened power to check a president or oversee the operation of the federal government, the most consequential fallout experts see for lawmakers after four years of nearly constant high-profile courtroom showdowns with a defiant president. Democratic lawmakers often had... Read More
Historians and watchdog groups sued the Trump administration again over its alleged failure to preserve White House records. "With President Trump's term in office soon coming to an end," the White House's flouting of record-keeping requirements could deprive historians and the public "of records documenting a critical part of our nation's history,"... Read More