Judge: Florida's system for restoring felon voting rights unconstitutional

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By: Jake Stofan | Capitol News Service
February 2, 2018

(Erik Hersman / CC BY 2.0)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- A federal judge has ruled Florida's clemency process unconstitutional.

It's the latest ruling in a growing conversation concerning a process which has led to a backlog of 10,000 ex-convicts waiting to get their rights back.

Florida changed its rights restoration process after Governor Rick Scott took office in 2011. It now requires felons to wait at least five years before applying.

Only 400 or so cases are heard each year.

In the ruling, a federal judge says Florida's clemency process violates the 14th amendment.

"It's a recognition that the number of people that have been able to regain their civil rights over the course of the past several years is so startlingly small that it prompted the court to act," said Mark Schlakman, a human rights attorney.

The judge didn't recommend how to fix the system, instead he asked the state and the nine ex-convicts who brought the lawsuit to come up with recommendations by the middle of the month.

Governor Scott's office issued a statement saying, in part:

"The Governor believes that convicted felons should show that they can lead a life free of crime and be accountable to their victims and our communities."

If approved, a constitutional amendment appearing on the November ballot will automatically restore felons right to vote and end any legal fight.

It would restore the rights of an estimated 1.3 million felons in the state.

Governor Scott is expected to appeal the courts ruling.


By: Stan Chambers | WTSP News
February 1, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTSP) -- Florida's lifetime ban on restoring voting rights for felons violates the U.S. Constitution, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker determined the state's voting restoration process relies on personal support from Gov. Rick Scott in order for a felon to regain "this fundamental right," according to our news partners at the Tampa Bay Times.

The ruling comes less than two weeks after the state approved a ballot measure, that if passed in November, would restore the voting rights for about 1.2 million felons.

The current process, passed in 2011, imposed a waiting period of five to seven years before felons could apply to have their voting rights restored.

Previously, those with certain felony convictions automatically had their voting rights restored.

Governor Rick Scott’s Communications Office released the following statement regarding the ruling.

“The discretion of the clemency board over the restoration of felons’ rights in Florida has been in place for decades and overseen by multiple governors. The process is outlined in Florida’s Constitution, and today’s ruling departs from precedent set by the United States Supreme Court.

“The Governor believes that convicted felons should show that they can lead a life free of crime and be accountable to their victims and our communities. While we are reviewing today’s ruling, we will continue to defend this process in the court.”

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