State wants court to look again at felons voting

Elbert P. Tuttle Courthouse in Atlanta (Photo courtesy: United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration is asking an appellate court to revisit a three-judge panel’s decision this month that upheld a federal judge’s ruling that the state cannot deprive the right to vote to felons who are unable to pay court-ordered fees and fines.

The 33-page motion, filed Wednesday, asks the full 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to hear the case, what is known as an “en banc” hearing. The motion accused the three-judge panel of applying the wrong type of analysis, known as “heightened scrutiny,” to arrive at the Feb. 19 decision.

The panel should have relied instead on a “rational-basis review” used by other courts when weighing similar matters, lawyers for the state argued.

In urging the full court to reconsider the decision, the state called the case a “paradigmatic candidate for en banc review.”

“Indeed, it is difficult to think of an issue more important to the sovereignty of a state than the makeup of its electorate,” lawyers for DeSantis and his administration wrote in the motion filed with the Atlanta-based appeals court.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled in October that a state law requiring felons to pay court-ordered financial obligations, such as fees, fines and restitution, was unconstitutional.

The law, passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature last year, was aimed at carrying out a constitutional amendment, known as Amendment 4, that restored voting rights to felons who have completed terms of their sentences. Voting-rights groups challenged the law, arguing that hinging voting rights on felons’ finances amounts to a modern-day “poll tax.”

The Florida law “unconstitutionally punishes a class of felons based only on their wealth,” the three-judge panel wrote in upholding Hinkle’s ruling.

About the Author: