February 01, 2018

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. 

The complete article can be accessed here.