Lawyers from two Washington D.C.-based libertarian think tanks are opposing Florida Republican lawmakers’ efforts to curb Amendment 4.
Cato Institute and R Street Institute lawyers wrote Friday to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals about their opposition to last year’s Senate Bill 7066, which requires felons seeking to register to vote to first have fulfilled their financial obligations associated with their criminal record.
The lawyers wrote “[Friends of the court] believe that SB7066, insofar as it excludes people who cannot afford to pay criminal court debt from participation in the democratic process, perhaps permanently, violates the bedrock guarantee of equal rights that every citizen enjoys.”
Without a protective injunction from the court, the group argues “SB 7066 will have the effect of excluding a great number of people from voting because their poverty, while allowing similar situated wealthy persons to vote.”
The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank established in 1977 by Charles Koch, Ed Crane and Murray Rothbard. The R Street Institute is a libertarian think tank established in 2012. Both research foundations support free markets and limited government.
Some critics of SB 7066 compared the need for felons to fully pay restitution to a poll tax, which was a way to keep African Americans from voting in southern states starting in the 1890s.
SB 7066 requires former inmates to fully pay court fees, fines and restitution. However, it does have a provision that allows indigent offenders to have fines waived or reduced.
Several lawsuits have been filed even despite the provision, arguing the implementation of SB 7066 is unconstitutional.
In October 2019, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle ruled it is unconstitutional to prevent felons from voting who are “genuinely” unable to pay their financial obligations. Hinkle said the law created an “administrative nightmare.” DeSantis appealed the decision a month later.
Earlier this week, the Florida Supreme Court sided with DeSantis, requiring felons to complete all their financial obligations of their criminal sentences before they can register to vote again.
The high court’s decision could impact the voting rights of more than 1 million Floridians ahead of the 2020 elections.
On Jan. 28, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta is scheduled to hear oral arguments in a separate federal lawsuit.
In April, a trial is scheduled to begin in the U.S. District Court in Tallahassee.