A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday denied a request from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office to reconsider a ruling that temporarily blocked Florida’s law requiring ex-felons to pay all outstanding fines and fees before registering to vote.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta denied the governor’s request for an appeal “en banc,” or a rehearing before a full 12-judge panel. The court decided in February it was unconstitutional for the state to restrict ex-felons from voting based on financial ability.
The rejection was the latest development in a long battle over felon voting rights, that started after Florida’s Amendment 4 passed in November 2018 –– restoring the voting rights of nearly 1.4 million ex-felons. A federal lawsuit challenged the fines and fees law that the Legislature passed in 2019.
The lawsuit is set for trial April 27 before U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle in Tallahassee. Attorneys in the case plan to conduct the trial remotely because of the pandemic.
The federal appeals decision from a three-judge panel, applied only to 17 plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit. But it upheld Hinkle’s preliminary injunction, issued in October, that found it unconstitutional for the state to deny voting rights to the plaintiffs based on financial inability, and is a strong indicator of how Hinkle may rule.
“Florida has implemented a wealth classification that punishes those genuinely unable to pay fees, fines, and restitution more harshly than those able to pay—that is, it punishes more harshly solely on account of wealth—and it does so by withholding access to the franchise,” the three judges wrote in the ruling.
The decision came after DeSantis’ lawyers faced tough questions from the judges during oral arguments in Atlanta in late January. DeSantis’ office said it would ask the full appeals court to review the case the same day the ruling was released, on Feb. 19.
This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications.