A federal court has blocked a Florida law that would have denied hundreds of thousands of voters the ability to participate in the 2020 election, striking it down as unconstitutional. Campaign Legal Center (CLC) sued last year on behalf of three individual plaintiffs and a class of all affected Florida citizens. This win for CLC’s clients and the plaintiff class is historic. For the first time, a federal court ruled that conditioning rights restoration on the payment of costs and fees constitutes a poll tax.
CLC’s suit – the only one brought as a class action – ensured that today’s ruling applies broadly to all voters seeking voting rights restoration in Florida. Before class certification was granted in April of this year, the state of Florida refused to apply previous decisions by the district court and the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals beyond the individual plaintiffs in the case.
Now, to determine the amount one owes, the court ordered the state to allow potential voters to request an advisory opinion in hard copy or online and the state must respond within 21 days saying how much that person owes in fines and restitution to determine eligibility.
Nearly 774,000 citizens were denied the right to vote despite having completed their sentences, because they owed legal financial obligations. Almost 80% of the people who have outstanding legal financial obligations in Florida owe at least $500 in legal fees, according to a study by University of Florida political science professor Dan Smith, who testified at trial.
The court held an eight-day trial by video conference in the case from April 27 to May 6 and featuring CLC attorneys Mark Gaber and Danielle Lang, who highlighted the challenges that Floridians face in attempting – often unsuccessfully – to determine whether they had outstanding legal financial obligations and if so, how much they owed, and how much they needed to pay in order to vote.
Thanks to the tireless work of CLC and its partners, states can no longer deny people access to the ballot box based on unpaid court costs and fees, nor can they condition rights restoration on restitution and fines that a person cannot afford to pay.