“The First Amendment provides no additional protection of the right to vote.”
Last month, the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida issued a stay on Florida’s system to restore voting rights for felons. The court then ordered Republican Governor Rick Scott and three Cabinet members to adopt a new system by April 26 to allow convicted felons to vote.
The US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit blocked the ruling and decided the state does not have to immediately adopt a new system to restore the voting rights of convicted felons.
The Florida clemency board had planned an emergency meeting Wednesday evening to discuss changes to its system for restoring voting rights, but canceled it after the 11th Circuit’s ruling.
Former felons in Florida can request to have their voting rights restored, but there is no guarantee it will happen (some other states restore voting rights automatically). In fact, Florida is just one of four states that permanently disenfranchises people who commit a felony by default. After a waiting period, people who have entirely completed their sentences can apply to get their voting rights restored by the state’s executive clemency board ― which consists of the governor, attorney general, agriculture commissioner and the state’s chief investment officer.
The clemency board consists of Scott and three members of his Cabinet. They meet four times a year, which is when they “consider requests by convicted felons to regain specific rights, including the right to vote.”
US District Judge Mark Walker ruled that Florida’s system to restore votings was unconstitutional since “it gave ‘unfettered discretion’ to the governor who has the power to grant or deny voting rights for any reason.” The appellees claimed the system violated the First and Fourteenth Amendment.
Well, the 11th Circuit Court ruled that “[T]he Fourteenth Amendment expressly empowers the states to abridge a convicted felon’s right to vote.” The court also wrote that “[B]inding precedent holds that the Governor has broad discretion to grant and deny clemency, even when the applicable regime lacks any standards.”
The court also noted that that “the First Amendment provides no additional protection of the right to vote.”
In the ruling, the judges concluded “the State Executive Clemency Board has shown it will likely succeed on the merits of the Equal Protection claim.” While the appellees claim this violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the appeals court pointed out the appellees have not said “that the defendants actually discriminated against any of them on the basis of race or any other invidious grounds.”
“Rather, the heart of their claim is that the State Executive Clemency Board’s unbounded discretion will yield an unacceptable ‘risk’ of unlawful discrimination,” the court wrote.
Judges Stanley Marcus, appointed by President Bill Clinton, William Pryor, appointed by President George W. Bush, and Beverly Martin, appointed by President Barack Obama, sit on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
These judges issued the ruling and “concurred with the opinion in part and dissented in part.” Marcus wrote the decision on behalf of the majority.
Scott’s office is happy with the decision. From Tampa Bay Times:
“We are glad that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has stayed the lower court’s reckless ruling,” Scott’s office said. “Judges should interpret the law, not create it.”
Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.