Voting rights advocates and the state of Florida sparred over the future of suffrage for felons Monday, with Fair Elections Legal Network and Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC calling for a return of voting rights to citizens who’ve been out of prison for at least five years, while Gov. Rick Scott said the court should stay out of it.
The suggestions come as a response to the Feb. 1 ruling by U.S. District Judge Mark Walker that struck down Florida's process for deciding whether to restore ex-felons' voting rights, saying it violates the First and 14th Amendments because the governor's unfettered discretion creates serious risk of arbitrary decisions or “viewpoint discrimination,” whether along racial, religious or partisan lines.
Noting that he could not issue an order simply telling the state to “act right,” Judge Walker ordered the sides to brief the court by Monday on proposed “contours of injunctive relief.”
In its proposal, Fair Elections called for the restoration of rights following the completion of any waiting period of a specified duration of time set forth in Florida state law or the Rules of Executive Clemency.
“Currently, the rules require a felon to wait five or seven years after sentence completion before he or she is eligible for restoration of civil rights,” the advocates said in a release explaining their proposal. “Such an order will effectively eliminate the requirement for ex-felons to affirmatively apply for restoration and eliminate the state’s obligation to investigate each ex-felon in the state of Florida prior to making what this court has found must be an objective determination made in a timely fashion.”
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