Federal Court Upholds Law Denying Voting Rights To Formerly Incarcerated People With Outstanding Court Fees In Florida
Florida will continue to force formerly incarcerated people to pay all court fees before having the right to vote again.
September 16, 2020 at 6:16 pm
A federal appeals court has sided with the Florida governor and secretary of state in their quest to deny formerly incarcerated people the right to vote unless their court fees are paid in full.
The decision means hundreds of Florida citizens who were in prison for a felony charge and have outstanding legal fees will not be able to vote in November's election.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled on Friday that the onerous court fee keeping thousands of formerly incarcerated people from voting is not a "poll tax," according to BuzzFeed News. The decision overruled a district court that issued a preliminary injunction against the 2018 Republican-supported law.
NOW: The 11th Circuit has ruled en banc that Florida can require people with a past felony conviction to pay off all fines and fees before they can get their right to vote back even if they can't afford it https://t.co/WHG07U7zcf pic.twitter.com/Criur3C1CQ— Zoe Tillman (@ZoeTillman) September 11, 2020
Florida voters backed a 2018 referendum that changed the state's constitution and allowed the state's more than 1.4 million formerly incarcerated people to regain the right to vote. But in May 2019, the Florida Senate approved Senate Bill 7066, a law that made the full payment of court fees necessary to restoring voting rights.
These fees can sometimes amount to thousands of dollars, leaving more than 750,000 people in the state left out of the next election.
Chief Judge William Pryor (who is on Trump’s Supreme Court shortlist) along with five Trump-appointed judges on the 11th Circuit just upheld a poll tax in Florida. https://t.co/x3nYuEfQcm— The Leadership Conference (@civilrightsorg) September 11, 2020
Judge Jill Pryor wrote the dissenting opinion and said Florida lawmakers as well as other judges on the court tacitly admitted that the financial burden was impossible for most people to handle.
“In short, the legislators knew — or deliberately shut their eyes to — both the extent of the financial obligations Florida courts impose and the fact that most people convicted of felonies in Florida genuinely cannot afford to pay these obligations,” Pryor wrote in the dissent opinion.
So far, Florida officials said 85,000 people have tried to have their voting rights restored. Some of the people applying are the ones who filed the first lawsuit against the government over the law, BuzzFeed News reported. According to the news outlet, a person must pay all fines, restitution orders and court fees.
Lawyers with the Campaign Legal Center petitioned for two Trump appointees to the court to recuse themselves because of a legal conflict. The two judges, Judges Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck, were appointed to the federal appeals court just weeks after hearing the same case while both were still on the Florida state court.
The judges refused to recuse themselves and were the tipping votes in favor of upholding the law.
NBA star LeBron James and other athletes have led an effort to raise money to pay all of the outstanding court fees for those in need of assistance through an organization called More Than a Vote, according to a release from Florida Rights Restoration Coalition.
Most states do not allow formerly incarcerated people with prior felony charges to vote, denying large populations the right to participate in elections for the rest of their lives.
Poll taxes were made illegal by the 24th Amendment of the Constitution but have been used for more than 100 years to keep Black populations from voting, according to the Constitution Center. For decades, outright violence, mysterious taxes and impossible tests were all deployed to varying degrees as ways to deny Black communities the right to vote in elections.