Judge: Scott's clemency system for felons doesn't pass constitutional muster
A federal judge ruled Thursday that Florida has been violating the constitutional rights of convicted felons with a lifetime ban revoking their "fundamental right" to vote and forcing the disenfranchised citizens to "kowtow" before a panel of high-level government officials over which Florida's governor has absolute veto authority.
U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ruled in favor of the Fair Elections Legal Network, a national voting rights group, and the law firm of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll. They challenged Gov. Rick Scott and Florida's Executive Clemency Board on behalf of James Hand, a Cutler Bay resident and felon released from prison in 1986, six other plaintiffs and a class of about 1.5 million felons.
"No standards guide the panel. Its members alone must be satisfied that these citizens deserve restoration … Partisan officials have extraordinary authority to grant or withhold the right to vote from hundreds of thousands of people without any constraints, guidelines or standards," Walker wrote in his 43-page ruling. "The question now is whether such a system passes constitutional muster."
Walker ruled it does not, because it violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. He said Florida's convicted felons were victims of a "scheme" and a board with "limitless power" that relied on the support of Scott, who imposed more restrictions in 2011.
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