A federal judge ruled on Thursday that Florida has been routinely violating the constitutional rights of its residents by restricting the right to vote from convicted felons who have served their time.
"Florida strips the right to vote from every man and woman who commits a felony," U.S. District Judge Mark Walker
wrote in his ruling. "To vote again, disenfranchised citizens must kowtow before a panel of high-level government officials over which Florida's governor has absolute veto authority. No standards guide the panel. Its members alone must be satisfied that these citizens deserve restoration… The question now is whether such a system passes constitutional muster. It does not.”
In 2007, former Republican Governor, now Democratic member of Congress, Charlie Crist created a process that allowed felons who were convicted of neither murder nor sex offenses to have their rights restored without an application or hearing process. However, lead defendant Gov. Rick Scott changed this policy in 2011, and felons were required to wait five years after completing their sentence, serving probation and paying necessary fees to apply and earn the right to vote.
"We've known this policy was unjust, and today a federal judge confirmed it's also a violation of constitutional rights," Crist wrote on Facebook Thursday.
Under Scott’s process, he and Cabinet members worked on cases four times a year, and ruled on less than 100 cases at a time. At this rate, many applicants wait over 10 years for their cases to be heard, and Florida is currently tackling a backlog of over 10,000 cases.
Those who had their cases heard made appeals to the court of four republican politicians. During one of these hearings, Scott was recorded declaring, “We can do whatever we want,” according to Tampa Bay. The open room for bias in this system was recognized by Walker and dismantled.
The appointee of former President Barack Obama cited the First and Fourteenth amendments, which promises U.S. citizens freedom of expression, due process and equal protection under the law. Scott’s hearing process, Walker ruled, opposed these fundamental ideas.
"The discretion of the clemency board over the restoration of felons' rights in Florida has been in place for decades and overseen by multiple governors," Scott’s communications director, John Tupps told Tampa Bay. "The process is outlined in Florida's Constitution, and today's ruling departs from precedent set by the United States Supreme Court."
Both sides have until Feb. 12 to file briefings to Walker on how to remedy these inefficient qualities in Florida’s system.
Florida has continued to build on the momentum in this case, and has approved to review a measure that could grant voting rights to 1.2 million previously convicted felons whose rights were revoked, not including murderers and sex offenders. This measure will be voted on in November.