A U.S. District judge in Florida on Thursday ruled that the state’s practices for “restoring” voting rights to felons is unconstitutional, noting that “no [formal] standards guide the panel” that decides whether to extend the franchise to those Floridians.
Judge Mark Walker delivered a blistering 43-page decision, writing that in Florida, “partisan officials have extraordinary authority to grant or withhold the right to vote from hundreds of thousands of people without any constraints, guidelines, or standards. The question now is whether such a system passes constitutional muster. It does not.”
The decision came in response to a lawsuit—filed by nine felons who completed their sentences but were denied the restoration of their voting rights—which named Florida Governor Rick Scott alongside the state’s clemency board.
Walker argued that Scott in particular had abused his power in determining whose voting rights the state would restore. (Felons have to wait five years after completing their sentences to even apply for a clemency board hearing; while there are tens of thousands of Floridians who have applied, the board meets only once every three months to hear fewer than 100 cases.)
In the decision, Walker wrote: “‘We can do whatever we want,’ the governor said at one clemency hearing. One need not search long to find alarming illustrations of this scheme in action.”
Just over a week ago, Florida election officials verified that a referendum to restore voting rights to the felons who have served their sentences will appear on the state ballot this November—a decision that could impact about 1.5 million people.