Interest of Amicus Curiae

Amicus curiae Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (“FRRC”) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit grassroots membership organization run by returning citizens—formerly convicted persons—in the state of Florida. The organization has deep investment in the automatic restoration of rights provided by Amendment 4’s changes to the Florida Constitution and in provisions that ameliorate obstacles to rights restoration under Senate Bill 7066 (“SB 7066”). FRRC, therefore, has a strong interest in this Court’s consideration of Plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction regarding SB 7066 and any related consideration of the constitutionality of Amendment 4 itself, on which this Court has ordered briefing. 

FRRC is dedicated to ending disenfranchisement and discrimination against people with convictions, and creating a more humane reentry system. The organization has fought to restore voting rights to Floridians with felony convictions since 2011. FRRC led the campaign for a constitutional amendment to end permanent disenfranchisement in Florida for all felonies other than murder and felony sexual offense. FRRC submitted the first draft of Amendment 4 to the Florida Division of Elections and collected over 66,000 signatures to secure review of the proposed amendment by the Florida Supreme Court. Later, FRRC helped collect signatures from more than 1.1 million voters to qualify Amendment 4 for the November 2018 ballot. The organization created a political action committee, met with legislators, and ran a public education campaign to build support for Amendment 4. These efforts included phone banking and a widespread get-out-the-vote campaign. In 2018 alone, FRRC spent more than $1.4 million to make Amendment 4 a reality. In no small part due to these efforts, Amendment 4 passed with the support of over 5.1 million Floridians—64.55% of the vote. 

In 2019, the Florida legislature passed SB 7066, which requires certain legal financial obligations (“LFOs”) be paid by returning citizens before their right to vote is restored. FRRC engaged with Florida legislators, provided technical assistance, and testified to shape SB 7066 in specific ways favorable to returning citizens and their right to vote. FRRC helped secure within SB 7066 a sentence modification provision, allowing judges to terminate LFOs, convert them to community service, or remove them from the sentencing document such that the obligations still exist but no longer pose a barrier to re-enfranchisement. See Fla. Stat. § 98.0751(2)(a)(5)(e) (hereinafter “modification provision”). This modification provision has the potential to mitigate SB 7066’s LFO payment requirement and, if the LFO requirement is ultimately upheld, increase the number of persons able to have their rights restored under Amendment 4. 

FRRC also advocated for language clarifying that re-enfranchisement is conditioned on completion of only those terms “contained in the four corners of the sentencing document,” id. § 98.0751(2)(a) (hereinafter “four-corners provision”). 

This provision means that returning citizens need not pay LFOs imposed outside the sentencing document to regain their vote. FRRC has been working to help Floridians use the modification and the four-corners provisions to restore their voting rights. 

FRRC submits this brief to explain why any order from this Court should not enjoin these provisions of SB 7066 and why no scenario calls for Amendment 4 itself to be invalidated. 

Download the Full Brief PDF

Background

At the heart of this case lies Florida Statute Section 98.0751, which was codified into law by SB 7066. See 2019 Fla. Laws 27-29, ch. 2019-162 § 25. That law provides that a person disqualified from voting on the basis of a felony conviction shall have “voting rights restored . . . upon the completion of all terms . . . of sentence, including parole or probation,” Fla. Stat. § 98.0751(1), and defines “all terms of sentence” to include full payment of restitution, fines, and fees imposed “as part of the sentence,” id. §§ 98.0751(2)(a), (2)(a)(5)(a)-(c). 

SB 7066 limits the impact of this LFO requirement with its four-corners provision, which mandates that “completion of all terms of sentence” requires completing only those terms “contained in the four corners of the sentencing document.” Id. § 98.0751(2)(a). This four-corners provision means that payment of any LFO imposed for a conviction but not listed in the sentencing document is not a condition for a person to regain the right to vote. 

SB 7066 also establishes a sentence modification provision that allows individuals to alleviate or remove their LFOs through one of three mechanisms or “any combination thereof.” Id. § 98.0751(2)(a)(5)(e). First, a court may order the “termination . . . of any financial obligation to a payee” “upon the payee’s approval.” Id. § 98.0751(2)(a)(5)(e)(II). Second, a court may “convert[] the financial obligation to community service.” Id. § 98.0751(2)(a)(5)(e)(III). Third, a court may “modif[y] the original sentencing order to no longer require completion of such a term” and move an individual’s LFOs off their sentencing order. See id. § 98.0751(2)(a)(5)(e). When this occurs, LFOs are no longer considered part of the “four corners of the sentencing document,” and thus do not serve as a barrier to re-enfranchisement. See id. § 98.0751(2)(a). This third option allows a court to restore a person’s right to vote before they have paid their LFOs, without relieving them of the duty to pay.1 

The modification and four-corners provisions represent a crucial victory won through months of intense legislative advocacy. FRRC worked closely with legislators in the State House and Senate to secure the inclusion of these provisions in SB 7066. The organization’s legislative campaign began with an “Advocacy Day” on March 12, 2019 during which over 500 members conducted 127 meetings with state legislators. FRRC’s “Lobby Corps” of returning citizens met with legislators every week of the session. Those members attended every relevant committee and subcommittee hearing until the bill passed in May. 

The enactment of these two provisions fulfilled a central goal of FRRC’s. The modification provision, by allowing a court to alter financial obligations, provides avenues to re-enfranchisement for returning citizens who have outstanding LFOs. The four-corners provision ensures that Floridians with LFOs outside their sentencing documents will not be perpetually disenfranchised. If the LFO payment requirement is ultimately upheld, FRRC expects these provisions will significantly increase the number of returning citizens enfranchised by Amendment 4 in time to vote in November 2019 and any other interim elections. As long as LFOs remain a potential requirement for the re-enfranchisement of any Floridian, these two provisions will play a key role in making the promise of Amendment 4 a reality. 

Download the Full Brief PDF

  • 1. This reading of the four-corners provision is supported by Florida Statute Section 98.0751(4), which states: “For the purpose of determining a voter registrant’s eligibility, the provisions of this section shall be strictly construed. If a provision is susceptible to differing interpretations, it shall be construed in favor of the registrant.”
Summary of Argument

Amicus curiae FRRC submits this brief to make two key points. First, the modification and four-corners provisions of SB 7066 are critical mechanisms for enfranchising returning citizens and should not be enjoined as part of any preliminary relief this Court may grant to the Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs’ claims and arguments do not require such relief. Moreover, enjoining the modification provision as part of an injunction against the LFO requirement would inflict great and irreparable harm on returning citizens’ voting rights if that injunction is overturned on appeal. This outcome would take away months of precious time available to returning citizens to seek and attain sentence modifications in time to vote in the November 2019 election. Indeed, FRRC, public defenders, government entities, and Floridians have already begun to use these provisions to secure re-enfranchisement. Enjoining the modification and four-corners provisions will harm the public interest and may unnecessarily prevent returning citizens from voting. 

Second, in response to this Court’s inquiry about the implications of Plaintiffs’ claims for Amendment 4 itself, FRRC submits that Amendment 4 must stand. No party argues that Amendment 4 is unconstitutional, and Plaintiffs seek no relief with regard to Amendment 4. Even if Amendment 4 were found to include an unconstitutional LFO requirement, a reviewing court can fashion alternative relief, such as an as-applied remedy, that would not require invalidating Amendment 4. There is no basis to return Florida to the permanent felony disenfranchisement regime that predated the 2018 passage of Amendment 4 by a supermajority of the state’s voters. 

Download the Full Brief PDF