Summary of Argument
In passing Amendment 4 the citizens of Florida sent a clear message: it was time to end Florida’s system of permanent disenfranchisement. Nearly 65 percent of voters in the November 2018 election cast their ballots for second chances and to restore the right to vote to formerly convicted people.
SB7066 unconstitutionally undermines the fundamental right to vote, as the district court and a panel of this Court concluded. FRRC offers this brief to make three points informed by its experience working with formerly convicted persons struggling to participate in Florida’s democracy under the strictures of SB7066.
First, FRRC, its members, and the people it serves have met repeated and utter frustration in attempting to identify whether a given returning citizen has outstanding LFOs and if so, what amount of the LFOs must be repaid to secure the right to vote. There is no consistent, reliable process or source of information available to returning citizens across the State of Florida to confidently assess their eligibility to vote and register without fear of criminal prosecution. The result is a dramatic chilling effect of the sort illustrated by Angel Sanchez’s story. FRRC’s experiences support the district court’s conclusion that SB7066’s pay-to-vote system is unconstitutional.
Second, FRRC members and constituents also find themselves saddled with financial obligations they cannot and will likely never be able to fulfill. For these individuals, SB7066 prevents their re-enfranchisement and renders the promise of Amendment 4 illusory. They continue to live under permanent disenfranchisement, blocked from the ballot because they are unable to pay a certain dollar amount. This amounts to punishment for inability to pay, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment under the Griffin/Bearden line of cases. Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660 (1983); Griffin v. Illinois, 351 U.S. 12 (1956). Defendants-Appellants’ arguments to the contrary misapprehend the nature of the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence in this area.
Finally, FRRC submits that under no circumstance should this Court strike down all of Amendment 4. Defendants-Appellants’ assertion that upholding the District Court’s decision would require this Court to “invalidate Amendment 4 in its entirety,” Defs.-Appellants’ En Banc Br. at 14, is wrong. This case centers around SB7066, not Amendment 4. Amendment 4 is distinguishable from SB7066, it is amenable to construction that would avoid constitutional infirmity, and any unconstitutional part of it would be severable.
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