TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA – Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker released a landmark decision today in the nationally-watched voting rights trial on Florida’s SB 90 bill to strike down key provisions of the law. This restrictive voting law passed by the Republican-majority legislature and Gov. DeSantis would have put in place new constraints on the use of drop boxes and organizations conducting voter registration drives, among other measures that would significantly hinder access to the vote for millions of state residents.
This law was successfully challenged in court by several national and Florida civil rights and voting rights groups, including Equal Ground Education Fund, Florida Rising Together, Hispanic Federation, Poder Latinx, and Unidos US. Advancement Project National Office, Demos, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, and pro bono counsel from Arnold and Porter filed the lawsuit.
Judge Walker struck down several provisions of SB 90 as unconstitutional and in violation of the Voting Rights Act. This includes a requirement for disclaimers that undermined the efforts of third party registration groups, a requirement to deliver registrations to supervisors in the county where registrants resided, a ban on providing food and water to voters waiting in line, and limitations on drop boxes. The law’s new requirements related to identification needed to register to vote by mail were left intact.
Importantly, Judge Walker found that in passing SB 90, the Florida legislature had exercised intentional racial discrimination. This means that Florida will be required to get “preclearance" from Judge Walker before making any future changes to laws affecting third party voter registration organizations, drop boxes, or restrictions on assistance to voters standing in line. Such relief is rarely granted, underscoring the egregiousness of this law.
SB 90 is one of over 400 new anti-voting laws across 49 states introduced in the last year, attempting to silence the rising majority of Black, Latinx, Asian, and Indigenous voters. The trial challenging this law gained national attention as an example of the use of litigation to fight against the sweeping trend of legislation to curb access to the vote, in effect restricting voting rights for millions of people in the U.S.
Organizations challenging SB 90 hailed the ruling:
“SB 90 is one of the most suppressive pieces of voting legislation in the country, and most of it has now rightly been struck down as unconstitutional. We are disappointed by the upholding of the remaining provisions around vote by mail applications and identification needed to vote. These ‘voting protection’ acts touted by Republicans are being seen in the courts for exactly what they are: thinly veiled attempts to suppress the voice of Black and Latinx voters Without a democracy that affords free, fair, and accessible voting, we cannot make meaningful progress on urgent civil rights issues like public safety, education equity, immigration, affordable healthcare and economic security. The impact of this trial has deep implications not only in Florida but for the state of voting rights everywhere. We will continue the fight of expanding democracy,” said Sabrina Khan, Deputy Director and Senior Staff Attorney, Power and Democracy, Advancement Project National Office.
“The Court properly recognized that SB 90 was only the latest in a long string of efforts by the State of Florida to suppress the votes of Black and Brown Floridians by targeting the precise strategies successfully used to mobilize for prior elections. In adopting a preclearance requirement, the Court has recognized that future efforts by the Florida legislature to restrict voting rights need to be carefully scrutinized prior to enactment,” said John A. Freedman, Arnold & Porter, Senior Pro Bono Counsel and lead trial for the Florida Rising Together plaintiffs.
“Judge Walker’s ruling reflects the reality of SB90: it is a deliberately anti-democratic law meant to create obstacles for Black and brown Americans to vote in our democracy. It’s no coincidence that Florida enacted legislation that made it harder to vote by mail and for third-party organizations to facilitate voter registration immediately after an election with record turnout among voters of color. As Judge Walker has made clear, such egregious violations of the most fundamental tenet of American democracy simply cannot stand. Everything about this law is thoroughly anti-democratic and designed to silence Black and brown people as the number of Floridians of color who are eligible to vote increases. As a Latina, a Floridian and an attorney fighting to protect the voting rights of all eligible Americans, I am encouraged by this decision and feel confident that it is a harbinger of reversals to similar unjust laws nationwide,” said Kira Romero-Craft, Director of Legal Strategies, Demos.
“Governor DeSantis may wish to run our state otherwise, but in Florida, we still believe every vote should be counted and every voice heard. No matter how many barriers Governor DeSantis tries to throw in the way of Black and Latino voters having our voices heard and vote counted, we will knock them down. Today’s ruling doesn’t just uphold the constitution, it shows the constitutional crisis we are facing under Governor DeSantis’ leadership. Judge Walker’s decision excoriated the discriminatory effects of numerous laws over the past 20 years as evidence of the discriminatory intent of SB90. For the next 10 years, legislative attacks on voting rights will require pre-clearance from the Court to make sure they are not unconstitutional and discriminatory. Today is a victory for the people of Florida and it will take all of us getting more involved to protect our rights and our democracy in this state.” said Andrea Cristina Mercado, Executive Director of Florida Rising.
“With the court’s decision today, we see one of the most restrictive voting rights laws in the country being struck down. This is a huge victory for the state of Florida. For too long, this law peeled back the progress that voting rights groups have made by targeting the very tools minority communities, like ours, use to increase voter turnout. There is no place for racism in our country, and we will continue to take these suppressive laws to court. Today we celebrate, because when we stand up, call out discrimination, and demand our right to vote, justice wins the day,” said Jasmine Burney-Clark, Founder, Equal Ground Education Fund.
“We applaud today’s order by Judge Walker that protects the rights of Florida voters and shines a light on the discriminatory policies that have been enacted by Florida lawmakers in an attempt to suppress voter turnout. This victory today should serve as a warning to other state legislatures that might attempt to pass similar legislation. We are watching carefully, and will continue to work with our sister civil rights organizations to support the rights of voters all across the nation,” said Frederick Vélez Burgos, National Director of Civic Engagement, Hispanic Federation.
“LatinoJustice is gratified by the decision of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida to enjoin some of the most egregious provisions of SB 90, the voter suppression law. The decision reaffirms the bedrock principle that our democracy must be equally accessible to all, and that the Constitution protects the work of our plaintiffs, nonpartisan community organizations that strive to empower historically disenfranchised voters. Providing water or offering language assistance to those in line to vote, and escorting physically disabled voters to the poll, are essential to guaranteeing the right to vote. Coming as it does in the midst of mounting attacks on voting rights that unfairly undercut the political power of growing numbers of Black and Brown voters, this decision will help us continue to defend the rights of Latinos and other Floridians so they have equal access to voting,” said Lourdes M. Rosado, President and General Counsel, LatinoJustice PRLDEF.
“Today’s decision displays that the restrictive election laws we are seeing across the United States have no place in American democracy, and SB 90 was among the most restrictive laws we had seen. Voters of color are being targeted by conservative lawmakers at the state and federal levels because they know that we are a force at polls. This decision gives me hope for what we can do to grow the Latinx electorate in 2022,” said Nancy Batista, Field Director of Poder Latinx.
“Today’s court decision striking down a majority of SB90’s voter suppressive provisions marks a victory for voting rights. The freedom to vote is central to a functioning democracy and Hispanics deserve voting policies and mechanisms that are accessible, convenient, and secure, like voter registration and drop boxes, to ensure their voices are heard and fairly represented throughout all levels of government.
We continue to fight and look forward to more court decisions that recognize and respond to the systematic erosion of voting rights similar to FL SB90 happening in states across the country,” said Jared Nordlund, Florida State Director, UnidosUS.
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