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Supreme Court declines to assist Florida in restoring convicted felons’ right to vote
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Supreme Court declines to assist Florida in restoring convicted felons’ right to vote

The Supreme Court has declined to block a Florida law that prevents convicted felons from voting.

Justices Sotomayor, Ginsburg and Kagan all dissented from the majority’s denial of application to vacate stay.

The dissent explained:

This Court’s order prevents thousands of otherwise eligible voters from participating in Florida’s primary election simply because they are poor. And it allows the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to disrupt Florida’s election process just days before the July 20 voter-registration deadline of the August primary, even though a preliminary injunction had been in place for nearly a year and a Federal District Court found the State’s pay-to-vote scheme unconstitutional after an 8-day trial. I would grant the application to vacate the Eleventh Circuit’s stay.

Even though Florida amended its constitution to restore convicted felons’ right to vote, the Florida legislature and courts have interpreted this amendment in a way that ultimately prevents a significant amount of convicted felons from actually exercising such right. The constitutionality of this pay-to-vote scheme was the source of this decision.

The District Court determined that the pay-to-vote scheme not only violated the Equal Protection Clause but also violated due process because it discriminated against convicted felons on the basis of wealth. As a result, the Court issued a preliminary injunction preventing state officials from interfering with convicted felons’ right to vote. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed this ruling, determining that the pay-to-vote scheme would fail rational basis review, but declined to hear the case en banc. This forced the District Court to hold a bench trial resulting in a permanent injunction, which created a “rebuttable resumption of inability to pay for any person who the State had already determined was indigent.” More specifically, this injunction required the Secretary of State to allow voters to obtain an advisory opinion from Florida’s Division of Elections in regard to the amount owed or their inability to pay previous fines. If the Division of Elections did not provide an advisory opinion within 21 days, a voter could register to vote without being prosecuted.

However, 19 days before the voter registration deadline, the Eleventh Circuit stayed the permanent injunction without explanation. This injunction has allowed felon disenfranchisement to persist in Florida.