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Fed Dist Court Judge Mark Walker Strikes Down Florida Voter Suppression Law, Rules It Violates Voting Rights Act & U.S. Constitution

Photo of wall mural with caption: Florida voter suppression law shot down
Photo: Tom Barrett via Unsplash | Columbia County Observer Graphic

Judge Mark E. Walker
Mark E. Walker, Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida

TALLAHASSEE, FL - Today, Federal District Court Chief Judge Mark Walker struck down Florida’s suppressive voting law, S.B. 90. Judge Walker ruled the Florida law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

The court will also retain jurisdiction over this case for ten years [pre-clearance]. Florida may not enact any law concerning drop boxes or line relief without permission from the court.

In May 2021, on the same day Governor DeSantis signed S.B. 90 into law, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Florida NAACP, Disability Rights Florida, and Common Cause challenging S.B. 90. LDF was joined in the suit by co-counsel Covington and Burling LLP and the Law Office of Nellie L. King.

The group argued that the law created barriers and burdens that disproportionately impacted the ability of Black, Latino, and voters with disabilities to cast their ballot.

In his decision, Judge Walker wrote, “In so ruling, this Court recognizes that the right to vote, and the VRA [Voting Right Act] particularly, are under siege.”

LDF Senior Counsel Amia Trigg commented on Judge Walker's Decision:

“Today’s decision is a huge win for Florida voters. This decision recognized that S.B. 90 is the latest stain in a long history of voting laws which restrict Black political participation. As Judge Walker acknowledged, this is part of a larger assault on voting rights that continues across the country. We're seeing the right to vote being targeted at every level of government. Therefore, it is crucial that we continue this fight. Every voice deserves to be heard in our democracy, and state officials must ensure that by making elections fair and accessible — not by creating unnecessary obstacles to the ballot box. This ruling is extremely encouraging for those of us on the frontlines."

Tony DePalma, Public Policy Director for Disability Rights Florida, weighed in:

“Disability Rights Florida is proud to continue to fight for voting access and inclusive elections administration in the state alongside other Plaintiffs in this action and in conversations seeking to address barriers to voting with a disability more broadly. Today's ruling affirms the importance of efforts to include and account for all voices and perspectives within a representative democracy. We will continue to stress these efforts in our engagements and collaborations with state and local election officials. Florida's disability communities deserve no less and should receive no less."

Common Cause Director of Voting and Elections Sylvia Albert:

“Our ‘government by the people’ is stronger and more representative when all of us can participate in it. But as the court found today, for the past 20 years, ‘Florida has repeatedly sought to make voting tougher for Black voters’ as the Legislature worked to pick and choose the voters they want to participate in our government – and the voters they want to exclude. This is completely antithetical to our ideals of what a government ‘by the people’ ought to look like. We particularly appreciate that Judge Walker is insisting on ten years of pre-clearance through his court.”

The court struck down the below provisions in S.B. 90 challenged by the lawsuit:

• Restrictions and new requirements for standing VBM applications.

• Limitations on where, when, and how drop boxes can be used.

• A vague and overbroad prohibition on conduct near polling places, including likely criminalizing offering free food, water, and other relief to Florida voters waiting in long lines.

The Court consolidated the case joining these law suits:

League of Women Voters of Florida, Inc. et al. v. Lee et al.

Argued that S.B. 90’s drop box restrictions, mail-in ballot repeat request requirement, volunteer assistance ban, deceptive registration warning and food and water ban violate the First and 14th Amendments. 

Florida State Conference of Branches and Youth Units of NAACP et al. v. Lee et al.

Argued that S.B. 90 creates unnecessary barriers and burdens that disproportionately impact of Black and Latinx voters, and voters with disabilities, violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the First, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Florida Rising Together et al. v. Lee et al. 

Challenged S.B. 90’s limitations of the availability of drop boxes, addition of identification requirements to request a vote-by-mail ballot, prohibition of assistance to voters waiting in long lines, and imposition of new restrictions on third-party voter registration organizations 

Read Judge Walker’s decision here.

Governor DeSantis plans to appeal Judge Walker's decision.

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