Demos Files Amicus Brief Supporting Suit Against Florida's Process to Restore Voting Rights to People Convicted of Felonies

Demos Files Amicus Brief Supporting Suit Against Florida's Process to Restore Voting Rights to People Convicted of Felonies

June 28, 2018


Florida automatically strips persons convicted of any felony of the right to vote. Fla. Const. art. VI, § 4(a); Fla. Stat. § 97.041(2)(b) (2018). This case is about whether the state’s process for restoring voting rights—one in which the Governor has “unfettered discretion to deny clemency at any time, for any reason,” Fla. R. Exec. Clemency 4—offends the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The district court held that it does, and that ruling should be affirmed.

In conducting its analysis, this Court should consider the historical basis and underlying rationale for felony disenfranchisement and should carefully consider whether those align with the way in which Florida’s restoration process currently operates. The central justification for disenfranchisement is that people who have committed felonies—serious crimes—must be morally censured, and that the repugnance of their criminal acts renders them unfit to participate in the political community.

Under Florida’s criminal code, however, an extraordinarily broad swath of low-level unlawful conduct—conduct that one would assume to be at most a misdemeanor—is classified as a felony. Non-violent economic crimes like low- level shoplifting and pickpocketing, crimes of youth like creating graffiti and possessing a fake ID, and enigmatic regulatory offenses governing alcohol distribution and crab catching are all felonies. Conviction on any of these charges renders a citizen indefinitely unable to vote, unless and until they can successfully navigate the state’s current arbitrary restoration process.

Where state law exposes people of such low moral blameworthiness to permanent disenfranchisement, a careful examination of the state’s process for restoring voting rights is all the more vital. The exposure that Floridians have to loss of their voting rights for minor conduct heightens the need for this Court to scrutinize the state’s restoration process and insist that it be guided by meaningful standards. At a minimum, individuals should not be required to go through an arbitrary and indefinitely long process that may or may not lead to restoration. To protect the constitutional rights at stake in this case, this Court should affirm the district court’s judgment and permit the adoption of new rules for voting rights restoration to take its course.