Florida is appealing a federal ruling that orders the state to replace what U.S. District Judge Mark Walker called a “fatally flawed” system for restoring voting rights to felons who have served their sentences.
Walker issued a permanent injunction stopping the current civil rights restoration policy used by the state and ordered state leaders to replace it by April 26.
A spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott released a statement Wednesday morning announcing the state had appealed Walker’s ruling.
“The Attorney General’s Office has appealed Judge Walker’s ruling. People elected by Floridians should determine Florida’s clemency rules for convicted criminals, not federal judges,” said John Tupps, Scott’s communications director. “This process has been in place for decades and is outlined in the both the U.S. and Florida Constitutions.”
Walker’s ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed a year ago by the Fair Elections Legal Network challenging the constitutionality of the state’s 150-year-old voting rights restoration process for felons.
Prior to issuing the temporary injunction, Walker ruled in February that the system was unconstitutionally arbitrary.
In issuing last week’s injunction, Walker was critical of Scott and the Cabinet members for defending the current system.
“There are problems of potential abuse—especially when members of the board, who are elected on a statewide basis and who may be running for re-election or another office, have a personal stake in shaping the electorate to their perceived benefit,” Walker wrote in last week’s order.
The judge ordered the state to develop “specific and neutral criteria to direct vote-restoration decisions.”
Florida is one of four states that permanently takes away the right to vote for convicted felons. In order to regain their rights, a convicted felon must go before the governor and Cabinet, and ask that their rights be restored.
“The Governor will always stand with victims of crime. He believes that people who have been convicted of crimes like murder, violence against children and domestic violence, should demonstrate that they can live a life free of crime while being accountable to our communities,” Tupps said Wednesday.
It’s estimated that 1.5 million Floridians have been permanently disenfranchised from voting as the result of being a convicted felon. The state has a current backlog of more than 10,000 cases of felons who have petitioned the state to have their civil rights restored.
The system that was struck down by the judge had been in place since shortly after Scott took office seven years ago. It requires convicted felons to wait at least five years after completion of their sentences before they petition the state for the restoration of their civil rights. Those felons convicted of murder or sex offenses are required to wait seven years.
“For the federal judge to interfere at this stage and say that this process, which has been in place since 1968, is now unconstitutional is extreme,” reacted Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a member of the Florida Cabinet and a Republican candidate for governor. “We are always looking for ways to improve it, but, as a member of the Clemency Board, my top priority is to make sure the victims have a chance to be heard.”
The announcement that Florida is appealing the judge’s order brought immediate criticism from Democratic candidates for governor.
“It is ironic and tone-deaf that on the day that we march to remember Martin Luther King, Jr., the great champion of civil rights, Governor Scott and General Bondi are actively working take away the vote and voice of over 1.5 million Floridians,” said former Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine. “We are a nation and a state of second chances. Great leaders do not work to keep their people down; they create environments where everyone has the opportunity to rise.”
Levine vowed to make changes to the process if he becomes governor.
Another Democrat, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, called it “an utterly transparent attempt to marginalize and disenfranchise millions of Floridians.”