Florida Record

Sunday, April 5, 2020

11th Circuit rules in case over felons' reinstatement of voting rights

By Carrie Bradon | May 10, 2018

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TALLAHASSEE — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has ruled in favor of the state Executive Clemency Board in the case of convicted felons who sought to have their voting rights reinstated.

The complaint filed by James Michael Hand, et, al., alleged that he and "eight other convicted felons who have completed their sentences and seek to regain their voting rights in Florida" under the voter re-enfranchisement for convicted felons and sought damages against Gov. Rick Scott and three members of the state's Executive Clemency Board.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida granted a summary judgement in favor of Hand and the other individuals and issued a declaratory judgment, permanently invoking the Executive Clemency Board from "enforcing the current unconstitutional vote-restoration scheme” and “ending all vote-restoration processes, commanding the State Executive Clemency Board to “promulgate specific and neutral criteria to direct vote-restoration decisions and meaningful, specific, and expeditious time constraints."

The board appealed and filed a motion for stay pending appeal.

All parties agree that the relevant factors include "(1) whether the stay applicant has made a strong showing that he is likely to succeed on the merits; (2) whether the applicant will be irreparably injured absent a stay; (3) whether issuance of the stay will substantially injure the other parties interested in the proceeding; and (4) where the public interest lies," the appeals court wrote citing a prior case.

The appellees claim the voter re-enfranchisement lacks standards and therefore violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, according to information in the ruling. They also claim that the same re-enfranchisement act is in violation of the First Amendment.

The three-judge appeals panel wrote that the appellees' theory fails for multiple reasons: "First, our case law establishes that the First Amendment affords no greater voting-rights protection beyond that already ensured by the Fourteenth Amendment. It follows that it does not run afoul of the First Amendment. In the second place, Florida’s power to disenfranchise voters is expressly sanctioned by § 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment. And finally, no First Amendment challenge to a felon-disenfranchisement scheme has ever been successful."

The court found that the board likely met its burden. 

Judge Beverly Martin dissented in part, stating, "Certainly there are processes by which the First Amendment and executive prerogative can both be respected." 

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U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida