Thursday, April 22

Supreme Court allows Florida to restrict voting rights of convicted felons

The Supreme Court on Thursday said Florida can enforce a law that blocks felons from voting if they have court-related debt.

The decision impacts nearly a million convicted Florida felons who owe outstanding fines or fees in what’s viewed as a key battleground state for the November presidential election.

The high court’s three liberal justices — Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg — dissented. The decision comes just ahead of the state’s July 20 voter-registration deadline.

“This Court’s inaction continues a trend of condoning disenfranchisement,” Sotomayor wrote in the dissent.

“Under this scheme, nearly a million otherwise-eligible citizens cannot vote unless they pay money,” wrote Sotomayor, describing the policy a “voter paywall” against poor convicts.

The decision was a victory for Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has fought improving voting rights for the state’s felons. When voters in 2018 approved a ballot measure to restore voting rights to most felons, the state Legislature passed a bill blocking those with felony convictions from registering to vote. DeSantis signed the bill into law last June.

Rick Hasen, an election law professor at the University of California Irvine, wrote in a blog post Thursday that the decision has “big implications” on the November election.

“This case is perhaps the most consequential when it comes to election outcomes; Florida is a perennial swing state and the number of voters affected by this ruling is significant,” Hasen said.

The case will now move back down to the appeals court, where a hearing is set for Aug. 18, the same day as Florida’s primary elections.

Daniel Smith, a University of Florida political professor, found in an analysis submitted as evidence that nearly 775,000 people with felony convictions have some sort of outstanding legal financial obligation.