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Trump Judges Help Florida Republicans Take Away Returning Citizens’ Right to Vote: Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears

A gavel sitting on a table.

Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears” is a blog series documenting the harmful impact of President Trump’s judges on Americans’ rights and liberties. Cases in the series can be found by issue and by judge at this link.

With five Trump judges making a 6-4 majority possible, the Eleventh Circuit reversed a trial court and upheld a Florida law taking away the right to vote of many thousands of formerly incarcerated people. The judges upheld their fellow Republicans’ voter suppression in Jones v. Governor of Florida, decided in September 2020.

In 2018, Florida voters approved by a 64.5% supermajority a state constitutional amendment that restores the right to vote to people with prior felony convictions. In 2019, however, the Republican-controlled Florida legislature passed a law that requires such individuals to pay all fines, courts costs, and fees before they can register to vote, regardless of income. In May 2020, a federal district court struck the law down as unconstitutional as violating the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses, as well as the 24th Amendment’s ban on poll taxes.

A few weeks later, the 11th Circuit stayed the ruling until it could consider the state’s appeal. This ensured that returning citizens would be unable to exercise their right to vote in the 2020 primary elections. In July, the five far right Republican-appointed justices on the Supreme Court rejected voters’ request to undo the circuit’s action. This came over the objections of Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.

And now the Eleventh Circuit has issued its ruling, continuing the string of Republican-nominated judges enabling their fellow Republicans in Florida to undo the voter-approved constitutional amendment and prevent citizens from exercising their right to vote. Judges Beverly Martin, Adalberto Jordan, Jill Pryor, and Charles Wilson dissented. Judge Jordan explained that it was obvious from the record developed at trial that the state government had no interest in collecting the legal financial obligations (LFOs) so people can vote:

The evidence showed, and the district court found, that since the passage of Amendment 4 Florida has demonstrated a “staggering inability to administer” its LFO requirement. That is an understatement. Florida cannot tell [people with felony convictions]—the great majority of whom are indigent—how much they owe, has not completed screening a single … registrant for unpaid LFOs, has processed 0 out of 85,000 pending registrations of [people with felony convictions] (that’s not a misprint—it really is 0), and has come up with conflicting (and uncodified) methods for determining how LFO payments … should be credited. To demonstrate the magnitude of the problem, Florida has not even been able to tell the 17 named plaintiffs in this case what their outstanding LFOs are. So [returning citizens] who want to satisfy the LFO requirement are unable to do so, and will be prevented from voting in the 2020 elections and far beyond. Had Florida wanted to create a system to obstruct, impede, and impair the ability of [people who committed felonies] to vote under Amendment 4, it could not have come up with a better one.

That last sentence bears repeating:

Had Florida wanted to create a system to obstruct, impede, and impair the ability of [people who committed felonies] to vote under Amendment 4, it could not have come up with a better one.

While the court’s decision was issued by the judges on the Eleventh Circuit, they would not have been in a position to do this damage had they not been nominated by Trump and confirmed to the bench by the Republican-controlled Senate.

Notably, four of the six judges comprising the majority are on President Trump’s “short list” for Supreme Court justices: William Pryor (author of the majority opinion), Britt Grant, Barbara Lagoa, and Kevin Newsom.

Americans must exercise their right to vote this fall. A vote to reelect Trump and the Republican Senate majority is a vote for judges that do not regard your right to vote as worth protecting.