Judge strikes down key parts of Florida election law

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A federal judge in Tallahassee has ruled that Florida lawmakers overstepped their authority last year concerning an election reform law.

The judge didn’t just overturn it. He called the law an attack on the voting rights of Black citizens.

In a 288-page ruling following two weeks of testimony, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker struck down parts of last year’s law that changed voting codes.

“The legislature came in and actually made some pretty significant changes to the election law, including how many drop boxes that election supervisors can use,” explained attorney Chris Hand.

Hand said it was a surprising move in Florida, considering the state had a well-run election in 2020.

Judge Walker called the changes unconstitutional, and then went further.

The judge wrote, “At some point, when the Florida Legislature passes law after law disproportionately burdening Black voters, this court can no longer accept that the effect is incidental.”

“He said that he detected a pattern over the last 20 years of the Legislature disproportionately burdening minority voters here in the state and has now required that before the state passes any other election law changes that it obtained what’s called preclearance from the federal courts,” Hand said.

Florida leaders started weighing in quickly.

The Florida Democratic Party saying: “Ron DeSantis and Republicans in the Legislature spent two years passing unconstitutional and discriminatory laws that were destined to be struck down…”

Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls criticized Walker’s opinion as “based on limited analysis of data he thinks the Legislature might have had, the uncritical and complete acceptance of the comments of Democratic lawmakers, and a total disregard for other viewpoints.”

Senate President Wilton Simpson also defended the law and blasted the ruling:

“This order is highly unprofessional, inaccurate, and unbecoming of an officer of the court,” he said.

“It’s a ruling that’s long. It’s almost 300 pages long, and it’s almost certainly going to be appealed to the 11th Circuit at this point, but a major ruling regarding election law that has invalidated some of what the Legislature did in 2021,” Hand said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday afternoon that the ruling is the “judicial equivalent of pounding the table.”

Judge Walker previously ruled on the law that came from Senate Bill 90, upholding a portion on ballot harvesting.

About the Author:

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.