Federal Judge Strongly Admonished Florida Governor Over Voting Rights

United States District Judge Mark Walker issued a very strong opinion against Florida Governor Rick Scott and his insistence upon maintaining an Office of Executive Clemency that decides whether convicted felons should be allowed to vote. Judge Walker was very clear and firm in his opinion, which he construed as a violation of the First and 14th Amendments of the Constitution.

Florida is one of four states that do not allow convicted felons to exercise their right to vote after being released from prison unless they go through a restoration process. In general, those who are incarcerated are not allowed to participate in elections; however, 46 states restore this right as soon as a sentence is completed. In Virginia, Kentucky and Iowa, this process consists of an application and confirmation; in Florida, however, the Office of Executive Clemency is known to drag cases along for years and issue very few approvals, thereby infringing upon the rights of individuals to participate in the democratic process.

Judge Walker described the process in Florida as a nonsensical and onerous exercise in disenfranchisement. One of the salient issues in this process is that the Office of the Governor has veto power, which is routinely applied, which has prevented hundreds of thousands of people from voting over many decades. The judge has looked at the way that Florida officials conduct the process, and he described it as extremely unconstitutional.

As of 2018, more than a million residents of Florida are not allowed to vote, and in some cases they are not allowed to hold certain professional licenses in the notarial, real estate, mortgage, and finance fields.

In meetings convened to review clemency cases, Governor Scott has stated to the panel that they can do anything that they wanted with regard to review and approval of applications; this display of arbitrary behavior did not sit well with Judge Walker, particularly when at another meeting the Governor approved an application from a former felon who admitted to have skirted the process to vote for Scott in 2010.

A spokesman for Governor Scott suggested that an appeal may be in the works, but legal analysts believe that such a move may not get too far in appellate court and it will certainly fizzle out before the U.S. Supreme Court should the Florida Attorney General decide to continue fighting. Voting rights advocates are closely watching this case and may sue the state if it does not acknowledge the opinion of Judge Walker.

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