Fair Elections Legal Network and the law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, counsel for the plaintiffs in Hand v. Scott, submitted a brief proposing a remedy for the constitutional violations found by U.S. District Court Judge Mark E. Walker in his February 1, 2018 ruling. Judge Walker ruled Florida’s voting rights restoration process for persons with felony convictions violates the 1st and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution. Florida is still permitted to deny the right to vote to persons with felony convictions, and felons still cannot register or vote until that right is restored.
The brief stated the following:
Plaintiffs propose that this Court order the restoration of the right to vote to all persons with felony convictions immediately following the completion of any waiting period of a specified duration of time set forth in Florida state law or the Rules of Executive Clemency. Currently, the Rules require a felon to wait five or seven years after sentence completion before he or she is eligible for restoration of civil rights. Such an order will effectively eliminate the requirement for ex-felons to affirmatively apply for restoration and eliminate the state’s obligation to investigate each ex-felon in the State of Florida prior to making what this Court has found must be an objective determination made in a timely fashion.
This proposed remedy would fix the unconstitutional arbitrariness in the current restoration system and save the state money by eliminating the need to process and investigate individual applications for restoration of the right to vote.
In its February 1st ruling, the Court rejected the plaintiffs’ challenge to the pre-application waiting periods. This proposal calls for automatic restoration of voting rights for persons with felony convictions while deferring to state law on any uniform waiting period. This proposed approach would preserve the possibility of changing or eliminating any state law waiting periods in the future by, for example, constitutional amendment (including Ballot Question Number 4 which qualified for the November 6, 2018 election), legislation, or a vote of the Executive Clemency Board members to change their rules.
Judge Walker’s February 1st decision affirmed that the 1st Amendment protects the right to vote and concluded that the process by which Florida officials grant or deny former felons’ restoration of voting rights applications is unconstitutionally arbitrary. The decision did not immediately order a remedy for the unconstitutional system.
Florida is one of four states that denies the right to vote to all former felons until they petition for rights restoration, and this process is the target of the lawsuit. Almost 1.5 million Floridians are currently disenfranchised even after completing their sentences, including men and women of all different political parties, races, ethnicities, ages, from cities and rural areas, as well as veterans, small business owners and others.
The lawsuit cited the lack of any rules governing the Executive Clemency Board’s decisions to grant or deny applications and contended that the arbitrary rights restoration process violates the U.S. Constitution.
The text of the U.S. District Court decision from February 1st can be found here.
The original complaint, procedural documents and other information on Hand v. Scott can be found here.
The Fair Elections Legal Network (FELN) is a national, nonpartisan voting rights and legal support organization. Our mission is to eliminate barriers to voting and improve election administration across the United States. Working alongside other national and state groups, FELN works to make the processes of voter registration, voting, and election administration as accessible as possible for every American.
Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC is recognized as one of the premier law firms in the country handling major, complex plaintiff-side litigation. With more than 90 attorneys, Cohen Milstein has offices in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Ill., Denver, Colo., New York, N.Y., Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., Philadelphia, Pa., and Raleigh, N.C. For additional information, visit cohenmilstein.com