Flip-flopping progressive voter rights group fights to keep felons from paying fines, fees

by | Nov 29, 2023

  • The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition continues its legal effort to challenge the state’s requirement for felons to pay all legal financial obligations before voting.
  • Despite past acknowledgments on the necessity of completing all sentence terms, the coalition now claims this requirement is unconstitutional and violates the Voting Rights Act.
  • The state counters the lawsuit as an attempt for judicial control over voter registration, contrasting with the group’s previous stance and court rulings affirming current laws.

Five years after they told voters that felons would be required to pay all fines, fees, and restitution related to their criminal sentence before being given the right to vote, a progressive group is still waging a legal war aimed at burning down the existing county-by-county court administration system they say is preventing some felons from voting.

After voters approved Amendment 4 in 2018, based partly on statements from the ACLU and the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, the progressive groups later flip-flopped in support of Democrat elections supervisors who tried to mass register felons in Florida without bothering to verify whether their sentences were complete.

When Republicans insisted on following the law, the groups launched racially-charged “poll tax” allegations but subsequently lost those arguments in court and even in the media. But as the latest filing shows, the groups won’t go away. Last week, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition filed yet another legal brief last week challenging the state’s requirement that felons must pay all legal financial obligations before regaining the right to vote.

The lawsuit is being brought even though the group and their allies are on the record on multiple occasions in the past telling the courts, the media, and the public that 2018’s Amendment 4 would only allow felons to vote once they completed their sentence. At the time the issue was on the ballot, the group and their allies specifically said that completing a criminal sentence included paying all fines, fees and restitution.

Now, however, the group wants the court to agree that the county-by-county patchwork system of requiring felons to pay those fines, court fees and restitution is “broken and arbitrary,” and should be abolished because it violates both the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act. Similar previous claims have been dismissed.

The plaintiffs’ recent 61-page court filing opposes Governor Ron DeSantis’ administration and other state officials’ motion to dismiss their lawsuit. The state has argued that the plaintiffs’ demand for a statewide method of determining felon voting eligibility is an “unprecedented judicial takeover” of voter registration procedures. Currently, each county court has jurisdiction over certain criminal cases, and therefore each of Florida’s 67 counties has its own approach to determining remaining financial obligations that must be met before a felon’s voting rights are restored.

One of the Florida Voting Rights Restoration Coalion’s largest allies, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), also previously agreed that the language in the ballot amendment that voters approved required the completion of all terms of a sentence, including the payment of fines, fees, and restitution, for voting eligibility. But though the ACLU long ago deleted that page, it can still be viewed, here and here.

Those prior acknowledgments by the ACLU and the entire progressive coalition starkly contrast with both the new legal challenge and previous allegations made by the group that the requirement amounted to a racially-charged “poll tax,” a claim even the media and courts have roundly agreed was absurd and baseless. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals previously affirmed the necessity of completing all sentence terms, including financial obligations and specifically debunked the “poll tax” claim. The Capitolist has also extensively documented earlier statements from these groups and the media, as recorded on their websites and in media reports, which undercut the groups’ credibility and repeated claims.  Even the left-leaning Orlando Sentinel, in a fact-check, highlighted this discrepancy, noting that the groups have shifted their stance and have not been honest with the public.

The lawsuit seeks an order requiring the state to build a database allowing felons to determine if they have outstanding legal financial obligations related to their criminal sentence and how to resolve those obligations. But the state says those systems already exist in varying degrees at the county level and has argued for dismissal of the case.


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