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Florida Seeks Expedited Full Fed Court Hearing in Appeal of Fed Judge Giving Felons Right to Vote

Photo: Tingey Injury Law Firm/Unsplash

TALLAHASSEE, FL – Florida is seeking a hearing before the full 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review its challenge of a federal judge’s ruling that allows 774,000 eligible felons to vote in August's primaries and November’s general election.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle’s ruling May 25 struck down Senate Bill 7066, adopted in 2019 as enacting legislation after nearly 65 percent of Florida voters in November 2018 approved Amendment 4, which restored voting rights for felons after completing sentences, excluding those convicted of murder and sexual assault.

SB 7066 stipulated, in completing sentences, felons must pay all court costs, fees and restitution. In striking it down, Hinkle’s ruling means up to 774,000 eligible Florida felons can cast ballots in upcoming elections unless the state successfully appeals Hinkle’s ruling or it receives an injunction to prevent felons from voting while the appeal is reviewed.

“With a primary election less than three months away, and a presidential election only three months after that, the need for a prompt and decisive ruling by this court is clear and urgent,” state lawyers wrote in their 34-page brief.

The attorneys warned Hinkle’s ruling “erroneously re-enfranchised hundreds of thousands of ineligible voters” and should be overturned before elections, not afterward, or “the integrity of those elections will have been corrupted and their results possibly opened to challenge.”

Hinkle called the law a “pay-to-vote system” that imposes “a tax by any other name” on people least capable of meeting nebulous standards without a process to evaluate felons’ voter eligibility.

Hinkle’s ruling mandated the Florida Division of Elections (DOE) ascertain how much a felon owes within 21 days of a determination request. If the DOE cannot do so within that time, it cannot bar the felon from voting, Hinkle ordered.

In February, an 11th Circuit panel unanimously upheld Hinkle’s October ruling that SB 7066 unconstitutionally denies the right to vote to felons “genuinely unable” to pay court costs.

The three-judge panel also upheld Hinkle’s injunction that prevented the state from barring 17 original plaintiffs from voting. Hinkle afterward granted class certification for one consolidated case.

Two days after Hinkle issued his ruling, DeSantis said the state would appeal. Attorneys representing DeSantis and Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee filed notice May 29 and submitted a formal brief June 2.

The state argues the case “involves one or more questions of exceptional importance," and that previous panel rulings should be reviewed “en blanc” by the full 12-judge 11th Circuit Court, which since January includes DeSantis-appointed Florida Supreme Court Justices Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck.

The state maintains Hinkle’s decision is “contrary” to legal precedents and the 11th Circuit panel in February “made some of the very same mistakes.”

Thirty states require felons pay fines, fees and restitution before regaining voting rights. Attorneys general in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, Texas and Utah on Tuesday filed a brief supporting Florida’s appeal.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys are calling for the appeal’s dismissal while speakers across the state discussing police reform are demanding DeSantis drop the challenge.

The appeal is an “atrocious and quite frankly racist” attempt to sustain “systemic racism,” Florida NAACP Civic Engagement Chairwoman Marsha Ellison said Wednesday.

“History tells us that felony disenfranchisement 115 years ago was strictly born out of racism,” she said. “This administration apparently intends to let the system remain. I can see how that would work for (DeSantis), but quite frankly it doesn’t work for us in the black community. Once you paid your debt to society, you deserve and should be restored to first-class citizenship.”

This piece appeared in the The Center Square and was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license.

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