The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay Wednesday night 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 by Thursday.
The stay by the federal appeals court means the state’s current system for restoring voting rights to former prisoners can remain in effect while the state appeals Walker’s ruling.
“We are glad that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has stayed the lower court’s reckless ruling. Judges should interpret the law, not create it,” John Tupps, Scott’s communications director said in a statement shortly after the ruling was handed down. “Governor Scott will never stop fighting for victims of crime and their families.”
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 stay was handed down just a couple of hours before a Wednesday evening meeting scheduled for 9:30 p.m. by Scott and members of the Florida Cabinet, who also sit as the state’s Clemency Board. They were prepared to adopt new rules, but with the stay granted, the meeting was cancelled.
The state constitution bans automatic restoration of a convicted felon’s rights. Judge Walker’s ruling focused on the process of deciding who should have their rights restored.
Under the state’s current system, felons must wait five 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.
Florida is one of only four states that leave felons completely disenfranchised in terms of their right to vote even after they have served their time. It’s estimated that 1.5 million Floridians have been disenfranchised.
Shortly after the stay was granted, the gubernatorial campaign of Democrat Andrew Gillum, issued an advisory announcing that Rev. Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King Jr. III, and other civil rights leaders would march on the state Capitol Thursday in a vote of support for Amendment 4, which will be on the November ballot. If approved by 60 percent of the voters, the amendment would change the constitution to grant the automatic restoration of rights to most former prisoners.