Appeals Court Upholds Florida Law Requiring Felony Offenders To Pay Off Fines Before Regaining Voting Rights
A federal appeals court today upheld a Florida law requiring felony offenders to pay off their court fines and fees before they can regain the right to vote. The decision is a setback for civil liberties groups’ attempts to re-enfranchise an estimated 775,000 residents in the battleground state.
In a 6–4 ruling, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the law, passed by Florida Republicans last year, does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment or the 24th Amendment’s prohibition on poll taxes. This overturned a U.S. district judge’s ruling in May, which held that the state’s inscrutable system for determining voting eligibility discriminated against offenders who were too poor to pay off their fines.
“Florida withholds the franchise from any felon, regardless of wealth, who has failed to complete any term of his criminal sentence—financial or otherwise,” Judge William Pryor wrote in today’s ruling.
The case is expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court. But it all but ensures that most of those in Florida with felony records won’t be able to register to vote in time for this November’s election. As WLRN reported last year, Florida felons would have to pay back hundreds of millions of dollars to restore their voting rights.
The ruling will not immediately affect the status of some 85,000 residents with felony records who have already registered to vote.
Julie Ebenstein, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project, said in
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