Advocates for restoring the voting rights of people with past convictions welcomed the ruling as “a powerful reminder that no one can trump the U.S. Constitution.”
Civil liberties advocates celebrated after a federal court on Sunday struck down as unconstitutional a Florida law that would have denied the right to vote to nearly a million recently enfranchised state residents with past felony convictions until they paid all outstanding legal fees, fines, and restitution.
After Florida voters in November 2018 overwhelming backed Amendment 4—a ballot initiative that restored the voting rights of Floridians who have fully completed their sentences for felony convictions other than murder or sex crimes—state lawmakers passed legislation that critics condemned as a “modern day poll tax.”
U.S. District Court Judge Robert L. Hinkle of Tallahassee concluded (pdf) Sunday that making voting rights contingent on payment for criminal justice services that a state must or chooses to provide represented “a tax by any other name” and violated the U.S. Constitution’s 24th Amendment and the National Voter Registration Act.
Rights groups that challenged the Florida law—which was pushed through by Republican state lawmakers and signed by GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis in June 2019—welcomed Hinkle’s permanent injunction against SB7066 as “a watershed moment in election law” and “a powerful reminder that no one can trump the U.S. Constitution.”
— ACLU of Florida (@ACLUFL) May 24, 2020
Leah C. Aden of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund called the ruling “a monumental win for our democracy” while Julie Ebenstein, senior staff attorney with ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said it was “a tremendous victory for voting rights” that could enable hundreds of thousands of Floridians to participate upcoming elections.
Sean Morales-Doyle, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law, said in a statement that this “historic win” in court “opens the way for hundreds of thousands of Floridians to exercise their fundamental right to vote this November—and our democracy will be stronger for their participation.”
Although the state is expected to appeal Hinkle’s decision—meaning participation in the upcoming November elections remains uncertain for many—the New York Times noted that “much of Sunday’s ruling is built on a previous ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta, which would hear any appeal.”
Critics of SB7066 vowed to keep up the legal battle as long as is necessary. The case was brought by the national ACLU, the ACLU of Florida, the Brennan Center, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Campaign Legal Center, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the legal firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.
This is a watershed moment in election law. For the first time, a federal court ruled that conditioning rights restoration on the payment of costs & fees constitutes a poll tax. #JonesvDeSantis @ACLU @ACLUFL @BrennanCenter @NAACP_LDF @splcenter
— Campaign Legal Center (@CampaignLegal) May 24, 2020
ACLU of Florida legal director Daniel Tilley said that “our democracy requires that every eligible voter have equitable access to the ballot box. Instead of embracing this founding principle, the Florida Legislature and Gov. DeSantis enacted a modern-day poll tax to keep people from accessing this fundamental right.”
“It should alarm Floridians that there are people occupying the highest echelons of political power in our state who fought to keep Florida tied to its racist past and bar people from voting,” Tilley added. “While the state is likely to appeal this decision, we’re ready to take this fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Tilley and Aden acknowledged the bravery of their clients who participated in the case and spoke out against the law, which they denounced as discriminatory.
“While we’re disappointed that the court did not recognize that the legislature’s decision to adopt SB7066 was partially motivated by a desire to minimize the political power of black returning citizens, we nonetheless celebrate this important win alongside our brave clients like Raquel Wright, Curtis Bryant, Jr., LaToya Moreland, and the Florida State and Orange County NAACP,” said Aden. “Through their compelling testimony and dedicated engagement, they fearlessly stood up against Florida’s attempt to put a price tag on voting.”
— Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (@FLRightsRestore) May 24, 2020
The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC), a grassroots group run by formerly convicted persons that helped lead the ultimately successful effort to pass Amendment 4, also welcomed Hinkle’s decision in a statement (pdf) Sunday and promised to continue fighting for enfranchising Floridians.
“This court decision adds another remarkable chapter in our fight as returning citizens to participate in our democracy,” said FRRC executive director Desmond Meade. “We will remain vigilant in our commitment to place people over politics, and ensure that all returning citizens, no matter how they may vote, have an opportunity to possess what we believe to be the most endearing sign of citizenship, the right to vote.”
“As the leaders of Amendment 4,” Meade added, “we are looking forward to utilizing this court ruling to expand on our registration efforts to create a more inclusive democracy, make voting exciting again, and to coalesce the voices of returning citizens to create a more just and equitable justice system.”
‘Chaos and confusion’: Election head in solid GOP state bashes Trump for ‘undermining’ their mail-in voting efforts
Donald Trump's attempts to cast doubt on the result of the 2020 presidential election -- which appears to not be going his way -- is causing headaches and grief in Utah where voters who have overwhelmingly voted by mail are now in a panic over whether their votes will be counted.
According to a report from Washington Post, Weber County -- a rock-ribbed Republican district of 260,000 -- began using mail-in voting in 2013 with no complaints. In fact, according to the report, 'more than 99 percent of ballots cast in the  primary were placed in the mail or deposited in a dropbox."
Republicans have more to gain from losing the election — and they know it: Columnist
On Saturday, writing for The Week, Matthew Walther argued that Congressional Republicans' recent behavior shows they have made peace with losing the election — that, indeed, they are looking forward to it, and have mapped out what they will do next as the party out of power.
"Faced with the possibility of losing both the White House and possibly even the Senate in a year in which Democrats are also expected to consolidate control of the House as well, Republicans have resigned themselves to a half decade or so of opposition," wrote Walther. "Many of them are relieved at the thought of not even having to pretend to govern as members of a minority party — better yet, in the case of those who expect to lose their seats, at the not very remote possibility of a well-remunerated position with a lobbying or consulting firm."
Investigation reveals just how dangerous Trump’s rallies are for public health
An investigation into the latest accelerated spread of coronavirus in multiple states appears to be linked to President Donald Trump's string of campaign rallies over the last several weeks.
As coronavirus plagues states all across America, Trump continues to blatantly disregard how dangerous his campaign rallies are for his campaign staff, White House advisors and aides, and everyone who attends his political events. Now, USA Today has explained the extent of the spreads in several counties following the president's rallies.
According to the analysis released by USA Today, case rates in at least five counties—Blue Earth, Minnesota; Lackawanna, Pennsylvania; Marathon, Wisconsin; Dauphin, Pennsylvania; and Beltrami, Minnesota—increased at a faster pace after Trump's rallies. Collectively, these counties reported 1,500 additional new cases in the two weeks after Trump's campaign rallies. The previous number of 8,069 jumped to 9,647 cases.