The Florida Supreme Court sided with Governor Ron DeSantis in advisory opinion issued Thursday, finding that felons must pay all their legal fines before voting.
In November 2018 the Florida electorate voted to restore voting rights to all convicted felons with a constitutional amendment. As part of the implementation of the new amendment, Amendment 4, the legislature passed a law requiring felons to fulfill all the terms of their sentence before voting. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other voting rights groups challenged the law, arguing it amounts to a poll tax.
In Thursday’s opinion, the Florida Supreme Court took a strict textualist approach to interpreting Amendment 4. The focused on the phrase “all terms of sentence” and found that “plainly encompasses not only durational terms but also obligations and therefore includes all [legal financial obligations] imposed in conjunction with an adjudication of guilt.” The court rejected the ACLU’s arguments that the terms of the sentence should include only the punitive terms as “overly technical”.
In a separate opinion, Justice Labarga did not agree that voters would have understood the ordinary meaning of the Amendment to include all court fines and fees; however, he concurred with the result. This advisory opinion risks disenfranchising approximately 1.4 million swing state voters in the run up to the Presidential election in November.