A federal appeals court ruled that Florida can bar ex-felons from voting if they owe fines and fees related to their sentences, reversing a lower court’s decision that found the law unconstitutional.
In a 6–4 ruling before the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit on Sept. 11, the judges sided with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, who has been defending the state law that required all ex-felons to pay off restitution, court fees, and fines before their voting rights are restored.
The ruling could influence the November election as it now stands as a barrier for thousands of ex-felons who have completed “all terms of their sentence including probation and parole,” but are unable to pay off restitution, court fees, and fines as part of their sentence.
The appeals court found that the felons who sued DeSantis and his administration over the law had not proven that the law had violated the Constitution. It also held that states are afforded the discretion in the disenfranchisement and re-enfranchisement of felons.
The court also rejected the lower’s ruling that the law “invidiously discriminate[s] based on wealth.”
“That decision was wrong. To reiterate, Florida withholds the franchise from any felon, regardless of wealth, who has failed to complete any term of his criminal sentence—financial or otherwise. It does not single out the failure to complete financial terms for special treatment. And in any event, wealth is not a suspect classification,” Pryor wrote.
“This pay-to-vote system would be universally decried as unconstitutional but for one thing: each citizen at issue was convicted, at some point in the past, of a felony offense,” Hinkle said in his May ruling.
Meanwhile, ACLU of Florida Legal Director Daniel Tilley vowed that the legal fight isn’t over.
DeSantis spokesman Fred Piccolo told The Associated Press in an email that the court’s decision upholds the meaning of “all terms of a sentence means all terms.”
“There are multiple avenues to restore rights, pay off debts, and seek financial forgiveness from one’s victims,” Piccolo said. “Second chances and the rule of law are not mutually exclusive.”