U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said Florida's voter restoration process unfairly relies on the personal support of Gov. Rick Scott.
The state of Florida routinely violates the constitutional rights of its citizens by its system of restoring or denying voting rights for anyone convicted of a felony, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said the Florida "scheme" of restoring voting rights unfairly relies on the personal support of the governor for citizens to regain the right to vote. In a strongly-worded ruling, he called the state's defense of voter disenfranchisement "nonsensical," a withering criticism of Gov. Rick Scott, the lead defendant in the case.
"Florida strips the right to vote from every man and woman who commits a felony," Walker wrote. "To vote again, disenfranchised citizens must kowtow before a panel of high-level government officials over which Florida's governor has absolute veto authority. No standards guide the panel. Its members alone must be satisfied that these citizens deserve restoration … The question now is whether such a system passes constitutional muster. It does not."
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Scott was the principal architect of the current system that requires all felons to wait at least five years after they complete their sentences, serve probation and pay all restitution, to apply for right to vote and other civil rights.
Scott and the Cabinet, meeting as a clemency board, consider cases four times a year, and usually fewer than 100 cases each time. It can take a decade or longer for a case to be heard, and at present the state has a backlog of more than 10,000 cases.
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The judge issued an order of summary judgment on three of four counts in favor of Fair Elections Legal Network, a national voting rights group, and the law firm of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll.
They challenged the clemency system on behalf of James Michael Hand, a resident of Cutler Bay south of Miami, and six other plaintiffs and a class of an estimated 1.5 million felons.
"No longer can politicians arbitrarily deny fundamental rights to citizens of the state of Florida," attorney Theodore Leopold said.
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