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FL Leaders Appeal Order to Change Felon Voting-Rights Systems

Florida officials asked a federal judge for more time to establish a new process for restoring felons' voting rights. (Democracy Chronicles/Flickr)
Florida officials asked a federal judge for more time to establish a new process for restoring felons' voting rights. (Democracy Chronicles/Flickr)
April 5, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Attorney General Pam Bondi filed an appeal Wednesday with a federal judge who ruled Florida's current system for restoring voting rights to people after their release from prison is unconstitutional.

Bondi told U.S. District Judge Mark Walker that she, Gov. Rick Scott and other members of the state's Clemency Board are appealing the court's Feb. 1 order halting Florida's rights-restoration system. Walker said the system gave the board "unfettered discretion," and called it "fatally flawed."

But Bondi's team of lawyers argues that Walker's request that they come up with a new system by Apr. 26 is unreasonable. Tallahassee-based clemency lawyer Reggie Garcia said the legal battle ahead could cause the backlog of cases to get even worse.

"And honestly, I expect whoever loses at this level will appeal to the United States Supreme Court,” Garcia said. “So this particular case and issue may take two or three years to work itself out."

Under the current system, ex-felons must wait five or seven years after completing their sentence to have their rights restored. However in November, voters will decide on Amendment 4, which calls for the automatic restoration of voting rights after terms of sentencing are complete.

Restoration of voting rights has long been a controversial legal and political issue. In 2011, Scott and Bondi changed the process, making it more difficult for rights to be restored.

Bondi's team argues that the judge's ruling has already forced the state to delay considering 122 applications. Garcia said on that point, it would be a win - at least for those who are currently in limbo - if the judge grants a stay.

"That means the current rules that have been challenged will then become operational again between now and November,” he said. “And I would think that's a good thing for the current applicants, because there are quarterly cabinet meetings."

In March, Walker sided with a voter-rights group, the Fair Elections Legal Network, in a challenge to the state's clemency system, finding it is arbitrary and violates First Amendment and equal-protection rights protected by the U.S. Constitution.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - FL