Florida Republicans have been attempting to enact what amounts to voter suppression in their state ahead of the general elections later this year. In 2018, a solid majority of Florida voters approved Amendment 4, a measure which gave nonviolent felons the right to vote, which they’d previously been denied on account of their convictions — but in the time since, the state GOP has attempted to enact legislation demanding that any felons must pay all fines before they’re allowed to actually register to vote. This week, a panel of three federal judges from the 11th District Court of Appeals flatly ruled against that demand for payment, which many have compared to a modern day poll tax.
After all, black Americans are already disproportionately targeted by the U.S. justice system to begin with. This particular ruling upheld a lower court’s ruling granting the chance to register to vote to 17 particular felons who’d sued the state over authorities’ contorted handling of Amendment 4. These latest judges on the case argued that the requirement created a completely unnecessary burden on poor felons, who’d be forced to overcome financial hardship that others did not before they had the chance to vote.
Judges Lanier Anderson, Stanley Marcus, and Barbara Rothstein commented:
‘Here, these plaintiffs are punished more harshly than those who committed precisely the same crime — by having their right to vote taken from them likely for their entire lives. And this punishment is linked not to their culpability, but rather to the exogenous fact of their wealth.’
Campaign Legal Center Vice President Paul Smith added:
‘It’s a very sound and careful opinion that comes to the correct conclusion that it is extremely problematic to deny people the right to vote as a criminal punishment based only on the fact they’re poor.’
The 17 felons named as plantiffs in the suit with the new ruling all said they did not have the means to pay all of their fines. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s spokeswoman Helen Ferré promptly announced that the governor’s team planned to appeal for a rehearing of their case with all of the judges on the appeals court. From here, the case seems likely to make it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court itself, where the closely Trump-allied Florida GOP will likely continue to argue that somehow, allowing citizens who’d fulfilled their prison sentences and posed no ongoing threat to those around them the chance to vote would do “irreparable harm,” as DeSantis put it previously.
The Florida GOP is not the only state of Republicans who’ve led voter suppression efforts and gotten turned back by the courts. In North Carolina, state judges ruled against GOP-drawn maps that gave their party an unfair advantage in the state via isolating majorities of voters who might oppose them to as few districts as possible.
There’s now a new district map in place, and two Republican Congressmen from the state whose new, fair districts have Democratic majorities have already announced that they’re retiring. The state’s prominent Republican Mark Meadows managed to keep a Republican-majority district, but he’s retiring too.