Attorneys general from eight other states side with Florida in battle over restoring voting rights to ex-felons

by | Jun 7, 2018

Attorneys general from eight other states have filed a brief in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta backing Gov. Rick Scott and the state of Florida’s efforts to protect the system the state now uses for restoring the voting rights of ex-felons.

As first reported by the News Service of Florida, Missouri, Alabama, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, South Carolina, Texas and Utah, have all signed onto the brief which was filed last week. All eight states have Republican attorneys general.

“First, the states share an interest in maintaining control of their criminal justice systems and in ensuring that federal courts do not unduly interfere with executive pardon powers,” the brief said.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay in late April blocking an order handed down earlier this year by U.S. District Judge Mark Walker who called Florida’s process for restoring voting rights to ex-felons “fatally flawed” and ordered the state to replace it.

In granting the stay, the appeals court said the state’s legal arguments had merit and there was a strong likelihood Florida would win in its appeal.

“The governor has broad discretion to grant and deny clemency, even when the applicable regime lacks any standards,” said Judge Stanley Marcus, who formerly served as a federal judge in Miami. He said there should no “rushed decision-making process created on an artificial deadline.”

The state constitution bans automatic restoration of a convicted felon’s rights.

Under the state’s current system, felons must wait five to seven years after completing their sentences before they are allowed to apply to have their civil rights restored. The process can take years after that initial waiting period to complete.

In the friend-of-the court brief, the other states described Walker’s ruling as an “attempt to defy federal and state law by dictating the manner of in which state executive officers grant clemency” and said it could have broad implications.

“Under the district court’s reasoning, the 48 states that leave the restoration of incarcerated convicts’ voting rights to executive discretion through the pardon power all have unconstitutional clemency systems,” the brief said. “Worse still, the district court’s reasoning extends not only to the restoration of the right to vote but for other clemency procedures, such as a death-sentence commutation, a liberty-conferring pardon, or restoration of the right to serve on a jury or to armed self-defense.”

The appeals court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case on July 25.

A state constitutional amendment that Floridians will vote on in November could let voters decide the matter. If approved by 60 percent of the voters, the amendment would require the automatic restoration of voting rights for ex-felons who have served their sentences.


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