As previously reported by The Inquisitr, Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2018 that restores voting rights to convicted felons who have served their sentences, excluding those convicted of rape or murder, making The Sunshine State one of several that have similar laws on their books. The amendment restored the right to vote to an estimated 1.4 million people.
However, in 2019, the state’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, signed a law requiring that “people with felony records [must] pay ‘all fines and fees’ associated with their sentence prior to the restoration of their voting rights.”
Advocates for voting rights have challenged that law, saying that it effectively amounts to a “poll tax,” which the United States Constitution’s 24th Amendment prohibits. In a lawsuit, advocates said that the law was unfair to felons who were impoverished and unable to pay those fees. Further, the lawsuit alleged that many of them were unable to even find out how much money they owed.
Further, felons who don’t pay could find their cases turned over to private collection agencies, which can then add a surcharge of up to 40 percent on the amount owed.
In May, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle agreed, calling the law a “pay-to-vote” scheme. However, this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit blocked Hinkle’s ruling and scheduled a hearing for August 18.
In Thursday’s ruling, the Supreme Court allowed the 11th Circuit Court’s ruling to stand. That effectively means that people with felony records will be forbidden from voting unless they pay their fees, but the August 18 hearing will still happen, and the lower court may yet rule in favor of allowing them to vote.
By that time it will be too late for the hundreds of thousands of felons who still owe court costs and other fees, as the deadline to register to vote in Florida’s primary election is Monday.
In the 6-3 ruling, liberal justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan dissented.
“This Court’s order prevents thousands of otherwise eligible voters from participating in Florida’s primary election simply because they are poor,” Sotomayor wrote in the dissent.
Similarly, Campaign Legal Center Vice President Paul Smith called the decision “deeply disappointing.”
“The Supreme Court stood by as the Eleventh Circuit prevented hundreds of thousands of otherwise eligible voters from participating in Florida’s primary election simply because they can’t afford to pay fines and fees,” he said in a statement.