The fight over restoring voting rights to the more than 750,000 people with felony convictions in Florida who are being forced to pay court fees is far from over as the entire 11th Circuit will now take up the state's "poll tax" law stating felons must repay all court costs before they can vote, partially struck down earlier this year by a three-judge panel. The 11th Circuit agreed to hear GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis's case en banc and ordered voter registration for felons without the fees put on hold.
A federal appeals court on Wednesday halted the voting registration of thousands of Florida felons who cannot pay fines or fees, just weeks after a lower court threw out the state law mandating payment of all legal financial obligations before voting.
The 11th Circuit decision granted Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis’ request to suspend voter registration until the full court hears the case.
The Atlanta-based appeals court did not signal if any decision would occur before the November elections. An initial hearing is set for Aug. 11, which is past the registration deadline for Florida’s Aug. 18 primary elections.
Last year, the Campaign Legal Center, American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP sued Florida over SB 7066, a law requiring felons to pay all restitution, fines and fees before they are eligible to vote.
Republican lawmakers passed the controversial measure just months after Florida voters overwhelming approved Amendment 4, a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to most felons “after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation.” The amendment did not mention restitution or fines.
After an eight-day trial in May, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled the 24th Amendment prohibits Florida from conditioning voting on payment of fines and fees. The law, Hinkle said, was a “pay-to-vote system.”
DeSantis lodged the appeal days later. The 11th Circuit had previously upheld an injunction against SB 7066 and will now rehear the case en banc.
The case, Jones v. DeSantis, could have lasting implications for politics statewide and nationally as Florida’s elections typically have razor-thin margins. In the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump took the state with less than 120,000 votes.
More than 774,000 Florida felons have some type of legal financial obligation, according to a study submitted to the court.
It's also important to note that Trump has appointed six of the 23 judges on this circuit court now, giving it a 14 of 23 Republican lean, where before it was 9-8 Democratic with 17 judges.
There's a very good chance now that the court won't act until after the election, and when it does, it will overwhelmingly side with DeSantis, meaning the Florida GOP will be given the green light to be able to keep adding more hoops to jump through for felons or, you know, for other previously registered Floridians who will mysteriously find themselves purged from the rolls.
I called this five weeks ago.
We'll see how far this gets before the GOP finds a friendly 11th Circuit Court to stay the order ahead of November. Don't count on Hinkle's order to stand through the election at all. This is far from over. What I'm afraid of is an appellate stay order or ruling that allows Florida to continue to disenfranchise over a million felons who have served their time and then SCOTUS won't hear the case until after the election, and then a 5-4 decision siding with DeSantis.
The en banc hearing accomplishes just that without the possibility that SCOTUS will refuse to hear the case. It's entirely possible that we could get a precedent that allows a new Jim Crow era in all the 11th Circuit states, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.
Republicans will always find ways to continue to disenfranchise voters. It's the only way they can win.