Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet will appeal a federal judge’s order to devise a new process for restoring voting rights to felons.
The Governor’s Office announced the move Wednesday morning. The appeal will be filed with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“People elected by Floridians should determine Florida’s clemency rules for convicted criminals, not federal judges,” Scott spokesman John Tupps said in a statement. “This process has been in place for decades and is outlined in the both the U.S. and Florida constitutions.”
But a citizen initiative resulted in a proposed constitutional amendment getting on the November statewide ballot that would automatically restore the voting rights of certain nonviolent offenders. Now, former prisoners have to wait at least five years before they can vote.
U.S. District Judge Mark Walker first decided in February that “Florida’s vote-restoration scheme is crushingly restrictive,” calling it “arbitrary and discriminatory.”
In late March, he permanently blocked Florida’s “fatally flawed” process of restoring voting rights, giving Scott and the Cabinet, which is also the state’s Board of Executive Clemency, one month to come up with a new system of giving back the right to vote to ex-cons.
Florida is home to about 1.5 million citizens who have been stripped from their voting rights, and is one of a few states that disenfranchises convicted felons who have served their sentences.
Solicitor General Amit Agarwal also moved for a stay of the case while the appeal is pending, mentioning a “substantial likelihood” of the state’s success.
“Plaintiffs in this case have not pleaded—much less proven with ‘clear evidence’—that the duly-elected constitutional officers serving on the Board discriminated against them,” he wrote.
“Since adopting the current Rules of Executive Clemency on March 9, 2011, the Clemency Board has ruled on more than 4,200 applications for the restoration of civil rights,” another filing says.
Walker had said the “burdensome” state system felons go through to regain their voting rights relied on a “panel of high-level government officials over which Florida’s governor has absolute veto authority.” He added that “no standards guide the panel.”
“The governor will always stand with victims of crime,” Tupps said Wednesday. “He believes that people who have been convicted of crimes like murder, violence against children and domestic violence, should demonstrate that they can live a life free of crime while being accountable to our communities.”
Board of Executive Clemency member Adam Putnam, the state’s agriculture commissioner, issued his own statement on the appeal later Wednesday.
“For the federal judge to interfere at this stage and say that this process, which has been in place since 1968, is now unconstitutional is extreme,” he said. “We are always looking for ways to improve it, but, as a member of the Clemency Board, my top priority is to make sure the victims have a chance to be heard.”
Background for this post from The News Service of Florida.