Appeals Court Reinstates Florida’s 2021 Election Law

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Reporter
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.
May 6, 2022 Updated: May 6, 2022

A federal appeals court on May 6 reversed a lower court decision, enabling Florida to enforce an election law.

Senate Bill 90, signed into law by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in May 2021, prohibited private funding for state or local election officials and tightened restrictions on drop boxes, among other provisions.

Various groups challenged the law, including the League of Women Voters, claiming it was unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, an Obama appointee, ruled in March that the law did violate the Constitution, in part because he said it discriminated against minorities.

Walker barred enforcement of the law and ordered state officials to clear future election laws with him.

That’s no longer necessary, based on Friday’s ruling, in which a panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit stayed Walker’s ruling pending the outcome of the case.

Walker’s order contains two flaws, the panel said. One was the determination that the law is intentionally discriminatory.

Walker “failed to properly account for what might be called the presumption of legislative good faith,” the panel said, referring to the Supreme Court’s instruction that courts must presume the good faith of a legislature when assessing whether an approved law has discriminatory intent.

In his 288-page opinion, the judge “imputed discriminatory intent to SB90 based in part on one legislator’s observation, when asked about the law’s potentially disparate impact, that based on ‘the patterns of use’ some voters ‘may have to go about it a little different way’ once SB90 becomes law,” the appeals court said. “Applying the presumption of good faith—as a court must—that statement by a single legislator is not fairly read to demonstrate discriminatory intent by the state legislature.”

The other flaw was a problematic analysis of the state’s actions, which stretched all the way back to shortly after the Civil War, according to the reversal.

The panel consisted of Judges Kevin Newsom, Barbara Lagoa, and Andrew Brasher, all Trump appointees.

The League of Women Voters of Florida, which won the initial ruling, declined to immediately comment on the reversal.

Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’ press secretary, called the stay a “big win for election integrity in Florida.”

Florida officials had previously panned the ruling, with state Attorney General Ashley Moody, a Republican who filed the appeal, calling it “very far outside the bounds of what I would expect from a judicial officer” and DeSantis saying the ruling would definitely be stayed.

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.