The Supreme Court upheld a lower court order on Friday that will prohibit thousands of formerly incarcerated people in Florida from voting.
In 2018, the Florida electorate voted to amend the constitution to allow felons to vote. Felons who finished their parole or probation periods would be eligible, but felons convicted of murder or sexual offenses would be ineligible. In total, the amendment would restore the voting rights of about 1.4 million people.
In a move to limit the extent of the amendment, the Florida state legislature passed a law that only allowed felons to register on the condition that they had settled all fines and fees related to their sentence. But no central log of these fees existed, making it hard to even locate the true amount owed.
If a person voted without fully paying their fines, they would face potential prosecution.
After the passage of this law, two felons challenged it in court and won. Judge Robert Hinkle found that the majority of felons would be unable to vote due to an inability to pay or locate their fines, and likened the rule to an unconstitutional poll tax. His decision permanently barred the law from going into effect.
However, at the beginning of July, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked Hinkle’s ruling and set a hearing for August 18th – the day of the Florida primary. Because of this order, the Florida state legislature’s law is in effect and felons who have not settled all fees cannot vote.
The Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday upheld the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision. Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Elena Kagan made up the dissent.
“Under this scheme, nearly a million otherwise-eligible citizens cannot vote unless they pay money,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
According to Rick Hansen, a law professor at UCI, the court’s decision will not only have implications on Florida’s primary, but also the November general election.
Sources: NPR 07/20, The Hill 07/20, Politico 07/20