Florida can now keep ex-felons from voting if they owe court payments, says appeals court

In a 200-page ruling, the court spelled out its 6-to-4 decision, overturning a lower court ruling that had blocked the law.

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Florida Rights Restoration Coalition's Desmond Meade at the Jan. 20 MLK Parade in St. Pete - Photo via Florida Rights Restoration Coalition/Twitter
Photo via Florida Rights Restoration Coalition/Twitter
Florida Rights Restoration Coalition's Desmond Meade at the Jan. 20 MLK Parade in St. Pete

A federal appeals court ruled on Friday that the state of Florida can prevent ex-felons from voting if they owe court costs or other financial penalties, even if they are too poor to pay them.

In a 200-page ruling, the court spelled out its 6-to-4 decision, overturning a lower court ruling that had blocked the law.

That earlier ruling, written by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle, had called the Florida law an "unconstitutional pay-to-vote system."Chief Judge William Pryor wrote for the majority on Friday that the law does not constitute a poll tax, but instead is meant to promote "full rehabilitation."

Common Cause Chair in Florida Liza McClenaghan issued a statement condemning the decision."The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision issued today is anathema to our country’s values," wrote McClenaghan. "Our republic is stronger when more people participate. The ability to vote should never be conditioned on economic circumstances. The 'demos' in democracy means all the people decide, not the moneyed people."

While the U.S. Supreme Court may well be the next stop, the Court had earlier in the year allowed Florida to continue barring felons from voting while the case was in the courts. That means it will almost certainly pertain to the November election, and is a setback for Vice President Joe Biden's campaign.

Florida voters decided in November 2018 to pass Amendment 4, which allowed convicted felons who completed "all terms of sentence" to be able to vote. Passed with nearly 65% of the vote, the amendment did not specifically refer to court costs and fees. After it passed, Republican lawmakers passed a bill signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis that clarified "all terms of sentence" must be satisfied for voting eligibility, including any fines, fees and restitution.

This article first appeared at our sister publication Orlando Weekly

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