11th Circuit rejects racism claim aimed at Florida’s 2021 election security law

by | Sep 22, 2023

  • The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit declined to revisit its decision upholding a 2021 Florida state elections law, reaffirming that the law’s measures are not racially discriminatory.
  • The court’s decision leaves intact a panel ruling that overturned a previous decision by Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, who had ruled the law was passed with discriminatory intent.
  • Chief Justice William Pryor defended the law, describing its provisions as race-neutral policies aimed at bolstering election security and maintaining order at the polls. However, Judge Charles Wilson dissented, arguing that the law impermissibly hinders civil rights plaintiffs.

In a critical win for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republicans in general, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has declined to revisit its earlier decision upholding a 2021 state elections law. The decision reaffirms that the law’s measures, which include new restrictions on mail-in ballot drop boxes and rules concerning voter-registration groups, are not racially discriminatory as opponents claimed.

The court’s refusal to hear the case “en banc,” or by the full court, leaves intact an April ruling by a three-judge panel of the same court. That panel overturned much of a decision made by Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker earlier this year, who had ruled that the law was passed with discriminatory intent.

Jeremy Redfern, Press Secretary for the Executive Office of the Governor, applauded the Eleventh Circuit’s decision.

“Today, the full United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit rightly voted against rehearing the reversal of an activist judge and affirmed, yet again, Florida’s common-sense elections provisions signed into law by Governor DeSantis in 2021,” Redfern wrote in an email. “We will continue to fight to make Florida’s elections secure, efficient, and transparent.”

But the governor’s spokesman went further, noting that Chief Justice William Pryor specifically took aim at the claim that the law was racist. In the opinion, Pryor wrote:

“What are the supposedly racist provisions that the district judge enjoined officials from enforcing? They are unremarkable, race-neutral policies designed to bolster election security, maintain order at the polls, and ensure that voter registration forms are de­livered on time.”

However, not all judges agreed with the majority’s decision. Judge Charles Wilson dissented, stating that the law “impermissibly increases the difficulty for civil rights plaintiffs seeking the protections guaranteed to them by our Constitution.”

The law, known as SB 90, was approved by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature in 2021 amid a nationwide push by GOP leaders to make voting changes following former President Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 election. While Florida experienced a relatively smooth election process that year, Republican lawmakers insisted the new measures were necessary for enhanced election security. Critics, on the other hand, argued that the law was intentionally targeted at Black voters who predominantly support Democratic candidates.

For instance, the law imposed new limitations on drop boxes used for vote-by-mail ballots, requiring that these boxes be manned by employees of supervisors of elections and limiting their use to early-voting hours. The law also set a 14-day deadline for voter-registration groups to submit completed forms, a requirement critics say disproportionately affects minority voters.

Other states, like Georgia, which went to Biden in the 2020 election, have more relaxed laws around the handling of drop boxes and less strict ballot security measures.

Despite those claims of that the law engaged in racial discrimination, the Eleventh Circuit panel emphasized that Judge Walker’s original findings “does not withstand examination.” The court pointed out that Walker’s decision was based on “fatally flawed statistical analyses” and “out-of-context statements by individual legislators.”

The decision is considered a significant legal victory for DeSantis and Florida Republicans, further solidifying the legality of the state’s efforts to make its elections more secure.


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