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In Advisory Opinion, Florida Supreme Court Says State Can Require Ex-Felons To Pay Fines Before Having Their Voting Rights Restored

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21.01.2020

The Florida Supreme Court issued an advisory opinion last week condoning a state law that prohibits residents with felony convictions from voting if they owe outstanding fines and court fees. Opponents of the law say it undermines a ballot initiative that was slated to restore the voting rights of an estimated 1.4 million Floridians and that it is also unconstitutional.

Passed by a popular vote in November 2018, Amendment 4 changed the Florida constitution to restore the voting rights of former felons. "Complications emerged almost immediately," Reason's C.J. Ciaramella noted last year. "The language of Amendment 4 said that voting rights would be restored 'upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation,' but it did not say whether 'all terms' included financial obligations imposed by courts."

The Republican-led state legislature chose to interpret "all terms of sentence" as including fines, restitution, and court fees associated with the felony conviction. Both chambers of the state legislature enshrined that interpretation in SB 7066, which Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed into law on June 28, 2019.

Almost immediately, civil liberties groups representing impoverished former felons sought an injunction against the state in federal court, claiming that SB 7066 essentially imposed a poll tax in violation of the 24th Amendment. In October 2019, Judge Robert Hinkle of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida issued a temporary injunction, writing that "each of these plaintiffs have a........

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