Florida’s Republican Governor just got flayed by a federal judge for creating an unconstitutional voter suppression board which arbitrarily denied suffrage for convicted felons who have already paid their debts to society, discriminating against minorities and Democrats. (embedded below)
Gov. Rick Scott’s (R-FL) blatantly illegal scheme to suppress voting imploded in his face, leaving his plans to run for higher office in doubt. The court ruling could potentially build the state’s budding electoral blue wave in this year’s mid-term elections into a blue tsunami.
Federal judge Mark E. Walker also issued a stinging, personal rebuke to the Republican Governor, himself the former-CEO of a convicted felon hospital chain caught perpetrating the most expensive Medicare fraud in history. The Tampa Bay Times reports:
In a strongly-worded ruling, he called the state’s defense of voter disenfranchisement “nonsensical,” a withering criticism of Gov. Rick Scott, the lead defendant in the case.
The decision is by far the greatest legal setback for Scott, a two-term Republican governor who’s expected to run for the U.S. Senate.
Scott was the principal architect of the current system that requires all felons to wait at least five years after they complete their sentences, serve probation and pay all restitution, to apply for right to vote and other civil rights.
The federal judge noted in his ruling that the Republican governor’s illegal scheme targeted African-Americans with a shotgun, wiping out 20% of that electorate. Judge Walker opined:
In Florida, more than 154,000 citizens had their voting rights restored during the last gubernatorial administration’s four years. Since 2011, a period of seven years, that figure has plummeted—less than 3,000 people have received restoration.
The context of these numbers is not lost on this Court. More than
one-tenth of Florida’s voting population—nearly 1.7 million as of 2016—cannot vote because they have been decimated from the body politic. More than one in five of Florida’s African American voting-age population cannot vote.
If any one of these citizens wishes to earn back their fundamental right to vote, they must plod through a gauntlet of constitutionally infirm hurdles.
The federal judge also noted that Florida’s GOP governor didn’t mince words in the public meetings of his sham. Scott bragged about using his powers of office arbitrarily, which violates the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.
The Republican Scott’s only goal besides racial discrimination was nakedly partisan discrimination, which the judge called out for its filth. The judge wrote:
“We can do whatever we want,” the Governor said at one clemency hearing. One need not search long to find alarming illustrations of this scheme in action.
In 2010, a white man, Steven Warner, cast an illegal ballot. Three years later, he sought the restoration of his voting rights. He went before the state’s Executive Clemency Board, where Governor Scott asked him about his illegal voting, “Actually, I voted for you,” he said.
The Governor laughed. “I probably shouldn’t respond to that.” A few seconds passed. The Governor then granted the former felon his voting rights.
A state cannot yank the right to vote from a Republican felon but retain voting rights for Democratic felons. Imagine a state bold enough to set in place a process—perhaps concurrent with criminal sentencing—where a panel of elected officials, empowered with boundless discretion but with a clear interest in shaping the electorate, decide that some felons can retain voting rights but others would be permanently barred from choosing their elected representatives.
Such a scheme might be arbitrary.
It might also violate the First Amendment. Neither would be constitutional.
While Florida’s deprivation of civil rights for felons after they’ve done their time goes back decades, recent history pointed towards progress when current Rep. Charlie Crist was Governor and a member of the GOP.
Crist rose in politics as a “law and order” Republican, but in 2007 took the bold step of increasingly giving voting rights back to rehabilitated felons after realizing the error of his prior ways.
We’ve known this policy was unjust, and today a federal judge confirmed it’s also a violation of constitutional rights. Justice will prevail! https://t.co/H8Op4PdgkX
— Charlie Crist (@CharlieCrist) February 1, 2018
Then, after Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) won the 2010 election, running as a billionaire tea party Republican, almost the first thing he did in office was to establish the completely arbitrary board struck down today.
Governor Scott pretended that his clemency board was necessary to protect the public but in reality, it was just a callous example of Republican partisanship paired with a powerfully unconstitutional racial discrimination strategy using the Drug War which ushered the New Jim Crow into Florida’s politics.
Florida’s elections are famously close, often decided by a mere hundred thousand votes in a state of 19 million residents, or as little as by 500 votes.
Tonight’s landmark federal court ruling promises to set Florida on a progressive path for decades to come.