State asks for hold on felons' rights ruling

By The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - In the latest salvo in a battle over restoring felons’ right to vote, Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet, acting as the state Board of Executive Clemency, asked a federal appellate court Monday to block a district judge’s order.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, siding with lawyers representing nine convicted felons, decided that the state’s restoration process violated First Amendment rights and equal-protection rights of felons.

Walker gave Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and the rest of the Florida Cabinet until April 26 to come up with a new process.

But on behalf of Scott and the board, Bondi appealed the decision to the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

On Friday, lawyers for the plaintiffs asked the appeals court to reject the request of Scott and the clemency board, accusing the state of “foot-dragging” in the appeal.

But Monday, lawyers for the state argued that the federal court should stay out of the decision, writing “such policy arguments should be directed to the policymaking branches of state government.”

In arguing that the appeals court should block Walker’s April 26 deadline to come up with a new procedure for vote-restoration, the state’s lawyers said the current process has been in place for years.

Scott, Bondi and the clemency board imposed the system shortly after taking office in 2011. Under the system, felons must wait five to seven years to apply to have their rights restored.

Only 10 percent of people who applied to have their rights restored have been successful, according to the state Commission on Offender Review.

Walker decided that the process was arbitrary and ordered the state to come up with a new system.

But in asking the court for more time, the state argued Monday that the plaintiffs -- some of whom were stripped of their right to vote decades ago -- could have had plenty of time to file challenges after their voting rights were taken away.

“Plaintiffs are not in a good position to demand that the State be forced to revamp a 150-year-old clemency system in 30 days,” the state’s lawyers wrote.

News Service of Florida