A federal court has unanimously rejected the claim that Florida’s new felon voting laws discriminate against women. “Two formerly incarcerated women claimed Florida violated the Constitution by requiring that they complete their sentences and pay their court costs before having their voting rights restored” reported the Independent Women’s Forum.
The case of Jones v. Latimer could not prove violations of the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit determined plaintiffs must show an intent to discriminate in order to prevail, “something that the women in this case were unable to do.”
The Florida Bill, S.B. 7066, was heavily debated during the 2020 presidential elections, with critics claiming the bill was designed to discourage, and even not allow, ex-felons to vote. The bill requires that all financial obligations be paid off before the individual is allowed to vote. Payments include restitution, as well as court ordered fees and fines.
Former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg and his team raised and donated over $16 million to pay the fines defined in the law. The Washington Post reported the money was used to pay the fines and fees for nearly 32,000 Black and Hispanic ex-cons.
Women’s groups have attempted to fight the bill as well. The Independent Women’s Forum reports:
In Latimer, the plaintiffs challenged Florida state constitutional Amendment 4 and its implementing law SB 7066. Amendment 4, which newly enfranchised rehabilitated felons, was supported by a supermajority of Florida voters. But activist lawyers wanted unelected judges to rewrite the law to remove the requirement to pay legal fees before restoring the voting rights of felons.
The sole basis of the lawsuit was “disparate impact,” an ivory tower theory of discrimination which posits that any statistical disparity in outcome is per se discriminatory. What’s absent from such a theory is any showing of intent — that those who made a change in the law did so for the purpose of disenfranchising or harming that group.
However, the 11th Circuit explained:
The people of Florida could rationally conclude that felons who have completed all terms of their sentences, including paying their fines, fees, costs, and restitution, are more likely to responsibly exercise the franchise than those who have not…. It is instead Florida’s legitimate interest in restoring to the electorate only fully rehabilitated felons who have satisfied the demands of justice.