Sep 11, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Court sides with Florida in ex-felon voting rights dispute

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Photo: Don Juan Moore/Getty Images
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Photo: Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Friday that Florida can order ex-felons to pay court fines and fees before they can register to vote.

Why it matters: The decision comes less than eight weeks before the November elections, potentially jeopardizing voter registration for hundreds of thousands of Floridians.

  • Critics of the law argue that such a requirement would amount to a poll tax and discriminate against felons who cannot afford to pay.

What they're saying: "Court costs and fees are legitimate parts of a criminal sentence—that is, part of the debt to society that felons must pay for their crimes—there is no basis to regard them as a tax," the 200-page decision reads.

  • "To be sure, one purpose of fees and costs is to raise revenue, but that does not transform them from criminal punishment into a tax. Every financial penalty raises revenue for the government, sometimes considerable revenue."
  • "The Due Process Clause does not require States to provide individual process to help citizens learn the facts necessary to comply with laws of general application."

The big picture: The 11th Circuit agreed to hear the case on an expedited basis after U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in May sided with the challengers and ruled that the expenses imposed on ex-felons were unconstitutional.

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