- On Wednesday, a federal appeals court in Florida upheld an injunction on a law that bans felons from voting if they haven’t paid their legal fees.
- In 2018, Florida voters passed Amendment 4, which granted ex-felons the right to vote once they’ve completed all terms of their sentence.
- Then, in 2019, Florida’s legislature and Rep. Gov. Ron DeSantis passed a law mandating former felons to pay all court costs before getting access to voting polls.
- With the help of voting rights groups, 17 felons sued DeSantis and other state officials in an effort to overturn this law.
- The latest ruling only applies to the 17 felons in the lawsuit, but it is still seen as a victory for all Florida felons who wish to vote.
A federal appeals court in Florida said on Wednesday that for now, felons can no longer be barred from voting if they haven’t paid fines or fees from their cases.
A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a preliminary injunction of a state law that requires convicted felons to settle all legal fines and fees before they are able to get reinstated to vote. The panel agreed to suspend the law until there’s a final ruling on it.
The decision of the appeals court only applies to the 17 felons who sued Rep. Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state officials in an effort to overturn the law. The plaintiffs and the voting rights groups that represent them argued that the legislation equates to an unfair poll tax.
The appeals court judges agreed, and said that the legal financial obligations (LFOs) law “punishes those who cannot pay more harshly than those who can—and does so by continuing to deny them access to the ballot box.”
While Wednesday’s ruling only applies to the 17 felons in the lawsuit, it is still seen as a victory for all Florida felons. A trial for the plaintiffs is still pending but slated to begin in April, and that’s when the overall constitutionality of the LFO law will be decided.
“This is a tremendous win for our clients and for our democracy,” Sean Morales-Doyle, a senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice, told NBC.
Background on Felon Voting Restrictions
Until recently, Florida automatically prohibited all felons from the right to vote ever again. This changed in late 2018 when an overwhelming majority of Florida voters passed Amendment 4, which granted ex-felons the right to vote once they’ve completed all terms of their sentence. Those with murder or felony sex convictions were exempt from this change.
The passing of Amendment 4 restored voting rights to an estimated 1.4 million people.
Last year, the Republican-led legislature and Gov. DeSantis passed the law that mandated that former felons pay all court costs before getting access to voting polls.
Supporters of the LFO law argued that Amendment 4 was not meant to restore voting rights for all felons, but only those who have “paid their debt to society,” including monetary fees.
Helen Aguirre Ferré, the Communications Director for DeSantis, responded to the Wednesday decision in a tweet.
“We disagree and will appeal en banc,” Ferré said.
Looking Ahead to 2020 Election
The recent ruling is especially significant as the 2020 presidential election approaches. Wednesday’s decision means that the 17 plaintiffs in the lawsuit are eligible to vote in Florida’s presidential primary next month, though other felons with outstanding legal fines or fees are still not.
However, it is possible that by the end of the upcoming April trial, the legal financial requirement law will be deemed unconstitutional, which will allow all Florida felons to vote whether or not they’ve paid the fines and fees from their cases. But if that’s the case, DeSantis and the defendants are still likely to appeal that ruling as well to a higher court.
It is unclear how this is all going to end. Some believe that the courts will move quickly to get it settled before the 2020 election, but the timeline is not fully set. Many expect that this particular case could be taken all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and ultimately be decided on there.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (NBC) (Wall Street Journal)
Federal Court Orders Immigration Officers to Stop Enforcing Trump’s Asylum Ban
- On Tuesday, a U.S. Circuit Judge in D.C. ruled that the Trump administration’s third-country asylum rule is illegal.
- That rule went into effect last year and bars immigrants from claiming asylum in the United States if they pass through another country on their way to the U.S.
- In his decision, Judge Timothy Kelly said the administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act by not giving Americans enough time and opportunity to weigh in on policy changes.
- On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security ordered asylum officers to stop applying the policy for new applicants, as well as those currently awaiting a decision.
Judge Rules Third-Country Asylum Rule Illegal
The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday ordered asylum officers to stop applying a controversial asylum policy meant to greatly diminish the number of migrants seeking refuge at the United States’ southern border.
The announcement came a day after Timothy J. Kelly, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, ruled that the policy is illegal.
The policy, imposed by the Trump administration in July 2019, was aimed predominantly at Central Americans crossing through “third” countries to get to the U.S. border. For example, to get to the U.S. from Guatemala, migrants would first need to cross through Mexico.
Under that policy, if a migrant crossed through Mexico to get to the U.S. border, they would not be able to immediately qualify for asylum. In fact, to be able to even potentially qualify for U.S. asylum, they would first have to apply for and be denied asylum in Mexico.
Immigrant nonprofits and asylum seekers argued that the rule violated a number of laws, including the Immigration and Nationality Act. That act generally allows anyone arriving to the U.S. to apply for asylum, though there are some exceptions for people with criminal records.
In his ruling, Kelly didn’t give a decision either way on the Immigration and Nationality Act. Instead, he agreed with immigrant rights groups that the Trump administration violated the federal Administrative Procedure Act, which requires that Americans be given ample time and opportunity to voice their opinions on policy changes.
In fact, Kelly ruled that the administration also gave an insufficient explanation as to why it didn’t allow the public to see and comment on a draft of the policy before it was enacted.
For its part, the Trump administration argued that it didn’t give advance notice of the third-country requirement because that would have triggered a surge of applicants seeking to evade the rule before it took effect.
However, Kelly said almost all of the government’s argument was based on one newspaper article from October 2018. That article suggests that when the Trump administration ended its policy of separating immigrant families at the border, the proportion of asylum seekers with children increased.
“There are many circumstances in which courts appropriately defer to the national security judgments of the Executive,” Kelly said in his decision. “But determining the scope of an APA exception is not one of them.”
This is not the first time Trump’s third-country restriction has been halted. Last July, a federal judge in San Francisco entered a preliminary injunction against the ban because of a “mountain” of evidence suggesting migrants couldn’t safely seek asylum in Mexico. In September, the Supreme Court then reversed that injunction and allowed the administration to keep enforcing the policy.
Praise From Immigrant Rights Groups
Following this ruling, ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt praised Kelly’s decision.
“The court properly recognized that the Trump administration has once again skipped important steps mandated by Congress to ensure transparency and input from the public,” Gelernt said. “This is yet another instance in which this administration has sought to bypass Congress where the lives of asylum seekers are at stake.”
Human Rights First executive Hardy Vieux also praised the outcome, saying that Kelly’s ruling “is proof that the administration cannot do an end-run around the law. In the United States of America, we follow the rule of law, even when it benefits asylum-seekers demonized by this administration.”
Conversely, the Justice Department stressed that Kelly’s ruling was “a matter of procedural mechanics.”
“It was not a ruling on the substance of the asylum policy,” an official added.
That much seems to be backed up by the basis of Kelly’s ruling, which was made because the Trump administration failed to follow procedure when announcing the policy. Therefore, the administration will likely try to appeal this decision.
Impact of New Ruling May Be Limited
The order handed down from DHS on Wednesday applies not only to new asylum applicants but also to applicants waiting to receive their final decisions.
Still, even as Kelly noted in his decision on Tuesday, the impact of this ruling appears to be limited—at least for now. That’s because DHS has already been turning away thousands of asylum seekers at the border.
Those restrictions began earlier this year in response to the coronavirus outbreak. In May, the Trump administration then extended the measure indefinitely, arguing that the move was necessary to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
In fact, according to The Washington Post, between March 21 and May 13, the U.S. granted asylum to just two people.
See what others are saying: (CBS News) (NBC News) (The Los Angeles Times)
Despite Limited Polling Stations, Kentucky Is On Track for Record-Breaking Voter Turnout
- Kentucky’s state primary is on track to see the highest voter turnout of any primary in the sate’s history, despite the fact the polling locations were slashed by 95%.
- During a normal election, there are around 3,700 polling locations, but on Tuesday less than 200 were open because of coronavirus precautions.
- Jefferson County, where Louisville is located, had one polling location for 600,000 voters. Because many of the state’s Black voters live there, some called it an attempt at voter suppression.
High Turnout Despite Limited Locations
Despite hiccups in big cities and incredibly limited polling stations, Kentucky is on track to see its highest voter turnout for a primary election, with Secretary of State Michael Adams projecting that over 1 million ballots were cast.
Prior to this, Kentucky’s largest primary turnout was in 2008 when the state saw 922,000 voters. In 2016, 670,000 voters turned out.
Adams released a statement saying that Tuesday’s election “offered the nation a model for success in conducting an election during a pandemic.” However, not everyone agrees with this.
The state slashed polling locations by 95%, going from 3,700 stations in a regular election to just under 200. Stations were limited due to fear over the coronavirus, but many thought it left the state’s voters with few options.
Much of the state’s Black population lives in Jefferson County, where Louisville is located. That county was left with just one polling location for its over 600,000 registered voters. Lexington, the second-largest city in the state, was also just left with one polling station.
Leading up to the election, the choice to limit voting locations so drastically was met with criticism from many politicians who saw this as a tactic of voter suppression that would disproportionately impact Black voters.
“Voter suppression is no longer billy clubs & Jim Crow. It’s closed polling sites + 6 hr waits w/o pay. COVID is no excuse,” said Georgia’s former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.
“We must make it easier to vote—not harder,” Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted. “Our job is to fight racist voter suppression everywhere.”
Issues in Lexington and Louisville
Though turnout was strong, voters still saw a variety of issues. Voters in Lexington reported waiting in lines over an hour long. In Louisville, voters saw other issues like parking traffic, and the city’s sole polling station at the Kentucky Exposition Center locking its doors right as polls closed at 6:00 PM.
According to Joe Sonka, a reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal, around 50 people were outside when the doors were locked. Voters eventually started banging on doors, demanding to be let in, as traffic made them slightly late to the location.
The Courier-Journal spoke to Don Hardison, a voter who was left outside. He told the paper that he spent 45 minutes in traffic before he could park.
“It’s our constitutional right that is being infringed on right now. I think it’s disingenuous at best that this is the only polling place in Jefferson County,” Hardison said. “It’s not (a) coincidence that this is a large urban population.”
It was not long until those voters were let inside the Exposition Center to vote. Charles Booker, a candidate for the U.S. Senate Democratic nomination, encouraged the voters to stay in line while he filed an injunction. Booker asked that the polls stay open until 9:00 PM, but the judge granted just a 30 minute extentsion.
According to CNN, this allowed another 100 voters to cast their ballots. Amy McGrath, who is running against Booker for the Democratic nomination, later tweeted that she was filing for the polls to stay open even later.
However, nothing more than the initial 30-minute extension was granted.
Results to be Called June 30
Results for Kentucky’s primary are still being counted. Many counties, including Jefferson County, have no results yet. The state also saw an influx of absentee voting. Over 800,000 were requested, and over 500,000 were received by Tuesday, with more on the way.
The races are expected to be called on June 30, when more of those absentee ballots are in. As of Wednesday afternoon, the New York Times projected that the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, was well ahead of Sen. Sanders for the presidential race.
The race between McGrath and Booker, which is more highly anticipated, is much closer. McGrath appeared to be around 8% ahead of Booker by Wednesday, though too few votes are in to call. The winner of this race will face Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in November.
See what others are saying: (Courier-Journal) (CBS News) (NPR)
Trump Suspends Multiple Work Visas That Could Have Allowed up to 525,000 to Work in the U.S.
- President Donald Trump signed an executive order Monday suspending multiple visa programs that allow foreign workers to enter the country.
- Notably, those suspensions will affect high-skilled tech workers, many healthcare professionals, students on work-study, and international business workers.
- Some of those visas exist as lottery systems, but the Trump administration wants to restructure them so that only the highest-paid applicants receive visas.
- Additionally, the Trump administration is also moving to prevent asylum seekers who illegally cross the border from receiving work authorization in the United States.
Trump Suspends Multiple Work Visas
President Donald Trump signed an executive order Monday that extends a halt on the issuing of green cards and now suspends several visa programs until the end of the year.
It’s a move that officials said could keep as many as 525,000 workers out of the country for the rest of the year.
In April, Trump signed an order suspending the issuance of green cards to most foreigners for 60 days. At the time, he said the order was a response to the “invisible enemy” (COVID-19) and “the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens.”
Trump stopped short of any broader immigration ban, but with this green card suspension having been set to expire on Monday, Trump sought to change that.
When suspending those visa programs Monday, Trump reiterated his original arguments, saying that these suspensions will ensure Americans are first in line for scarce jobs.
“Under the extraordinary circumstances of the economic contraction resulting from the Covid-19 outbreak, certain nonimmigrant visa programs authorizing such employment pose an unusual threat to the employment of American workers,” Trump said of the coronavirus in the order.
Who Will These Suspensions Affect?
Most notably, visa program H-1B was suspended in the executive order. That program includes a variety of skilled worker positions such as computer programmers for big tech companies.
Another visa program that is now suspended is known as H-2B. That suspension will affect seasonal workers like those in the hospitality industry; however, it won’t affect farm workers or workers in the food processing industry.
While some medical workers can also get an exemption for H-2B, that’s going to be a narrow window only allowed if they’re specifically conducting coronavirus research.
Additionally, J-1 short-term exchange visas are being suspended. Those include university students on work-study summer programs as well as au pairs who provide childcare. Professors and other scholars are not included in the order, and there will be a provision to request some exemptions.
Still, some critics have noted that even if a person is eligible to potentially apply for an exemption, there’s no assurance they’ll be approved for one.
The order also blocks L visas, which include managers and other key employees of multinational corporations. For example, American companies with global operations or international companies with U.S. branches will be unable to transfer foreign executives into the U.S.
None of these suspensions will affect workers who have already received a green card for these programs—even if those workers aren’t currently within the country. That said, their spouses will still be barred from coming into the country if they also don’t currently have a green card.
Business Leaders Push Back
Since signing the bill, a number of business leaders have pushed back against Trump. In fact, they’ve been lobbying to keep these visa programs active since the Trump administration first floated the idea of them.
One of the reasons Trump hadn’t suspended these programs earlier was because he abandoned the idea in April when he signed his original suspension after fierce backlash from business groups.
Many businesses have argued these suspensions block the United States’ ability to recruit critical workers from overseas, especially for jobs that have a lack of qualified American applicants.
“Very much disagree with this action,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk—an immigrant himself—said. “In my experience, these skillsets are net job creators. Visa reform makes sense, but this is too broad.”
Very much disagree with this action. In my experience, these skillsets are net job creators. Visa reform makes sense, but this is too broad.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 23, 2020
Other Big Tech executives such as Apple CEO Tim Cook, Microsoft president Brad Smith, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai—also an immigrant—have also spoken out against the suspensions.
Others have argued that an outright suspension of these visas doesn’t mean they’ll suddenly be beneficial to American workers.
“Putting up a ‘not welcome’ sign for engineers, executives, IT experts, doctors, nurses and other workers won’t help our country, it will hold us back,” Thomas Donohue, the chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce, said after Trump signed the order. “Restrictive changes to our nation’s immigration system will push investment and economic activity abroad, slow growth and reduce job creation.”
Immigration advocates have also hit back, saying that the “Americans first” idea doesn’t really reflect the reality of a dynamic and changing workforce.
Even Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), known to be a fierce defender of Trump’s policies, broke with the president in a lengthy Twitter thread.
“Legal immigration is a positive for the American economy, and visa programs allowing American companies to secure qualified, legal labor throughout the world have benefitted economic growth in the United States,” he said.
“Those who believe legal immigration, particularly work visas, are harmful to the American worker do not understand the American economy,” he added.
“Before coronavirus, legal immigration and programs like these played an important role in helping President Trump create the strongest economy in generations. I have little doubt that programs like these would help him build it again.”
“Unfortunately, I fear the President’s decision today to temporarily shut down these programs will create a drag on our economic recovery.”
At the same time, advocates for restricting immigration have applauded the president.
“The work visa suspensions will put the thumb on the labor market scale in favor of U.S. workers,” Jessica Vaughan, the policy director at the Center for Immigration Studies, said according to The New York Times.
“It’s really heartening to see the president stand up to the special interests that pull out the stops to lobby for these visa programs,” she added.
How Does Trump Want to Revise Immigration?
Reportedly, Trump doesn’t want to stop at suspending those visa programs. According to senior administration officials, he is working to make substantial, permanent changes to a wide array of immigration regulations.
Notably, that includes scrapping the current lottery system in which some visas are awarded and replacing it with more of a merit-based one. Part of the intent with that change is, according to officials, to prevent companies from contracting midlevel foreign workers, thus making accounting, programming, and other technology-based jobs more likely to go to U.S. citizens.
“This will drive both the wage level and the skill level of the H-1B applicants up,” a senior administration official said. “It will eliminate competition with Americans.”
Reportedly, the Department of Labor has also been instructed by Trump to set higher wages for H-1B holders and to probe potential abuses in the program. This is because foreign workers are typically paid lower wages.
Another major change that is set to be enacted by the administration will bar asylum seekers who illegally cross the border from receiving work authorization. That rule is set to take effect on August 25.
Under it, even if a person legally crossed the border as an asylum seeker, their wait time to be able to apply for a job would jump from 150 days to a year.