- On Thursday, the Supreme Court allowed Florida to enforce a ban that prohibits ex-felons from voting if they have outstanding debts related to their case.
- Nearly 1 million ex-felons in the state will likely be unable to vote in this year’s elections as they will be unable to pay their debts.
- On top of that, because Florida is offering little assistance, many will likely have a difficult time trying to find out how much they owe or if they even owe anything at all.
- In 2018, nearly two-thirds of Floridians approved a measure allowing convicted felons to cast ballots; however, Florida’s legislature has worked to severely limit the scope of their voting rights ever since.
SCOTUS Rules Florida Can Enforce Law
The U.S. Supreme Court will allow the state of Florida to enforce a law that bars convicted felons from registering to vote if they have court-related debt.
While such a predicament might seem rather niche upon first glance, SCOTUS’ decision impacts nearly 1 million ex-felons in Florida who owe outstanding fines or fees related to their case. What’s more, the law also bars some 85,000 ex-felons who are already registered to vote from participating in next month’s primary if they also have not paid fines or fees.
The problem? Many ex-felons might not be able to pay off their debts, and others might not even be able to easily figure out how much they owe, if anything at all.
Florida’s ability to enforce the ban came Thursday when SCOTUS refused to reinstate an injunction that would have blocked the law. An indefinite injunction against that law was first ordered last year after it was challenged in court. In May, a district court judge then made the injunction permanent; however, earlier this month, that injunction was thrown out by an appeals court.
SCOTUS’ refusal also comes just days ahead of Florida’s July 20 voter registration deadline. On top of that, Florida is one of the most hotly sought after battleground states in presidential elections, and this year’s election is expected to be no different.
While the majority did not offer a written explanation for why it refused to reinstate that injunction, three of the Court’s liberal justices—Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan—noted their dissent. Sotomayor, who wrote the dissenting argument for the three, said the Court’s inaction “prevents thousands of otherwise eligible voters from participating in Florida’s primary election simply because they are poor.”
“This Court’s inaction continues a trend of condoning disenfranchisement,” Sotomayor wrote, describing the Florida law as a “voter paywall” against poor convicts.
Though not written, the reason why the Supreme Court refused to extend that injunction is because of a 2006 case, Purcell v. Gonzalez. In that case, SCOTUS advised against lower courts allowing sudden changes to laws too close to an election.
Because of that, the state of Florida argued the permanent May injunction had violated Purcell v. Gonzalez.
Sotomayor, on the other hand, argued the opposite, saying that the appeals court’s overturning of a year-long injunction violated Purcell v. Gonzalez.
“[SCOTUS’ decision] allows the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to disrupt Florida’s election process just days before the July 20 voter-registration deadline for the August primary,” she said.
Florida’s Complicated History With Felon Voting Rights
For years, Florida has struggled with how to handle its felon population when it comes to voting. Originally, it had been one of only a few states that imposed a lifetime voting ban on convicted felons.
That changed in 2018 when voters finally approved a ballot measure that would restore voting rights to most felons,. At the time, 64% percent of voters cased a ballot in favor of the change. The ballot had needed a 60% supermajority to pass.
Notably, that vote granted almost 1.4 million people in the state—roughly 10% of Florida’s adult population—the ability vote. It also restored voting rights to more than 20% of otherwise eligible African-Americans, a group that was disproportionately affected under the original ban.
To be eligible, felons would need to complete their parole and probation periods. Voting rights were not restored at all for felons who had been convicted sex crimes or of murder.
While that vote had bipartisan support outside of Florida’s GOP-led legislature, lawmakers quickly rushed to limit the scope of the amendment. That included passing a law that prohibited any felon from voting if they had outstanding fees, fines, or restitution associated with their case.
In June 2019, Governor Ron DeSantis (R) signed that bill into law.
Despite that, the state offered little assistance to help felons determine how much they owed or even if they owed anything. In fact, the state said it would take six years to create a centralized database that felons could utilize.
The law was then challenged in court by two ex-felons, where a preliminary injunction was ordered. In May, district court Judge Robert Hinkle sided with them.
In his ruling, Hinkle found that the law violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment on the basis of wealth. According to Hinkle, an “overwhelming majority” of convicted felons would be left unable to pay for outstanding debts if they could even figure out how much they owed.
Hinkle also ruled that the law amounted to a ballot tax, which violates the 24th Amendment.
Hinkle’s decision would have led to a permanent injunction and would have ordered the state to tell ex-felons whether they are eligible to vote and how much they owe. If the state did not answer those requests within 21 days, the ex-felons would be able to register to vote.
But his order was inexplicably stopped from going into effect by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on July 1.
The case itself has not yet been heard in the appeals court. That’s set to happen on August 18, the same day that Florida will hold its primary elections.
Other Voting Rights Cases This Year
Thursday’s vote marks the fourth time this year that SCOTUS has refused to extend voting right protections. The other three cases each come from Wisconsin, Alabama and Texas.
Notably, those cases were not about convicted felons; rather, they concerned measures that would allow more absentee ballot voting in those states due to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
For example, the Texas case sought to allow voters under the age of 65 to request absentee ballots. Currently, Texas only permits absentee voting for people 65-year-old or older.
See what others are saying: (New York Post) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Campaign Season Gets Rolling This Month With Primaries in 13 States
Several of the contests taking place this month will serve as important tests for Trump-backed candidates and how much power the former president still has over the GOP.
May Primaries Start With Key Race in Ohio
The 2022 midterm season is officially heating up this month with 13 states heading to the polls.
Voters in Indiana and Ohio will kick off the busy month on Tuesday with several highly anticipated races, including one closely watched contest for the seat being vacated by long-time Senator Rob Portman (R-Oh.)
The fight for Portman’s seat has been a heated one: candidates have spent tens of millions of dollars, held numerous debates and forums, and at one point, two of them even got into a physical confrontation.
The main reason there are so many eyes on this race is because it will prove to be a key test for former President Donald Trump and the influence he has over the party. While Portman has generally been moderate and, at times, more readily critical of Trump than many others in his party, the Republican primary campaign has basically been a fight to see who is the most in line with Trump.
According to FiveThirtyEight, all but one of the seven Republican senate candidates embraced the former president’s election fraud lies as they fought for his coveted endorsement in a state he won by eight points in both 2016 and 2020.
Trump, for his part, ultimately ended up endorsing Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance in a move that surprised many, because Vance had previously been vocally opposed to the former leader and his competitors had spent months running ads noting that fact.
However, the fight for Trump’s backing appears to have been worth it. Last week, a Fox News poll found that support for Vance has surged by double-digits since Trump’s endorsement, making him the front-runner.
Still, as FiveThirtyEight reports, “other factions of the party haven’t given up the fight either — which means the primary will be a direct test of how much clout Trump has when other Republican elites dare to defy him.”
Meanwhile, there are also concerns regarding the ongoing legal battle over Ohio’s congressional map and the confusion that has caused for the state’s election calendar. For weeks, it was widely believed the state’s primaries would be pushed back after the Ohio Supreme Court ordered GOP lawmakers to redraw their map.
The map had been gerrymandered to give Republicans 12 out of the 15 congressional seats in the state even though they had only won around 55% of the popular vote. Ohio voters also previously passed a constitutional amendment in 2018 that effectively banned partisan gerrymandering.
The election, however, is still going forward anyway, even as early voting was down a whopping 40% from the last election, and the legislative races will not be on the ballot Tuesday, meaning there will have to be a second primary, which will likely drive down turnout even more.
Other Major Races This Month
There are also other notable contests scheduled for later this month. On May 17, there will be two additional races for seats vacated by Republican senators in North Carolina and Pennsylvania that will serve as important indicators of the former president’s sway over the party.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, the main Trump test focuses on two statewide races for the positions currently held by Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R). The two infamously angered Trump after they refused to help him overturn the election, and as a result, many are watching to see if the former president’s full-fledged pressure campaign against them will work.
In Georgia and other battlegrounds voting this month, Democrats are also hoping they can make inroads — particularly in Pennsylvania. But recent polls have not painted a good picture for the party. Last week, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that 47% of voters said they were more likely to vote for the Republican in their district, while just 44% said they would back Democrats.
The poll marked the first time in eight years that a Marist survey found the GOP with an advantage for congressional ballot tests.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (FiveThirtyEight) (PennLive)
New York’s Highest Court Strikes Down Democrat-Gerrymandered Map
The move represents a major blow to Democrats, who stood to gain as many as three seats in Congress if their map had been accepted.
Appeals Court Ruling
The New York State Court of Appeals struck down a congressional map drawn by the state’s Democrats Wednesday, dealing the party a major blow.
In the decision, the state’s highest court agreed with Republicans who had argued that the map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Democrats. The justices called the map “substantively unconstitutional as drawn with impermissible partisan purpose.”
The court also condemned the Democrats for ignoring a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 that aimed to limit political influence in redistricting, which included the creation of an independent entity to draw maps that the legislature would then vote on. However, the commission created to prevent partisan gerrymandering was unable to decide on a map because of its own partisan stalemate. As a result, Democrats in the legislature took it upon themselves to draw a final map.
But the version that the legislature passed and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed into law re-drew lines so that Democrats could have gained as many as three new seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Such gains would be highly significant in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections, where Republicans are expected to make substantial gains and may very well take back the House. Unsurprisingly, Republicans sued, and a lower court struck down the map.
In their order, the Appeals Court justices took away the legislature’s ability to make the map and instead delegated that power to a court-appointed “neutral expert.”
While the judges did say there was enough time to finish the map before the primary elections in June, they also added that the Congressional contests would likely need to be moved to August. Races for governor and other statewide officials, however, would stay the same.
The Appeals Court ruling is unique in that it targets Democrats, but it also comes as part of the broader trend of state courts cracking down on gerrymandering — though most other instances have stemmed from GOP-drawn maps.
In just the first four months of 2022, state courts in Ohio, North Carolina, Kansas, and Maryland have all struck down redistricting plans crafted by lawmakers.
Unlike the New York ruling, some of those other courts have implied that they will still allow those maps to be used in the 2022 elections. Such a decision would very likely disadvantage Democrats even more.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
McCarthy Warned Far-Right Lawmakers Could Incite Violence After Jan. 6 in New Audio of Leaked Call
The conversations represent a marked difference from the public efforts of McCarthy and other Republican leaders to downplay their members‘ actions.
Four days after the Jan. 6 insurrection, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) expressed concern about far-right Republicans inciting violence and openly voiced support for censoring them on Twitter, according to audio published by The New York Times on Tuesday.
The recordings, which come from a call among party leaders and aides on Jan. 10, are by far the clearest evidence top Republicans acknowledged that their members played a role in stoking violence before the insurrection and threatened to do so after.
They also emphasize the vast difference between what top Republicans, especially McCarthy, said behind closed doors, and how they downplayed and ignored the actions of their members in public.
One of the most notable elements of these recordings is that McCarthy and the others explicitly identified several individuals by name. They focused mainly on Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) and Mo Brooks (R-Al.) as the primary offenders.
In the audio, McCarthy can be heard flagging Gaetz right off the bat.
“Tension is too high. The country is too crazy,” he added. “I do not want to look back and think we caused something or we missed something and someone got hurt. I don’t want to play politics with any of that.”
Specifically, McCarthy and the others talked about how Gaetz had gone on TV to attack multiple Republicans for being unsupportive of former President Donald Trump after Jan. 6. They particularly expressed concern over his targeting of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.), who was a member of the leadership team and had already been facing threats.
Others on the call also noted that Brooks had spoken at the rally before the insurrection, where he made incendiary remarks that many have viewed as direct calls to violence. McCarthy said the public comments from his members “have to stop,” adding he would call Gaetz and have others do the same to tell him that this “is serious shit” and “to cut this out.”
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the second-ranking House Republican, asserted at one point that Gaetz’s actions were “potentially illegal.”
“Well, he’s putting people in jeopardy, and he doesn’t need to be doing this,” McCarthy responded. “We saw what people would do in the Capitol, you know, and these people came prepared with rope, with everything else.”
Republicans on the call also mentioned incendiary remarks from other members, including Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Tx.), Barry Moore (R-Al.), and Lauren Boebert (R-Co.). Cheney pointed to Boebert as a security risk, noting she had tweeted out incredibly sensitive information about the movements of top leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) during the attack on the Capitol.
“Our members have got to start paying attention to what they say, too, and you can’t put up with that shit,” McCarthy added later. “Can’t they take their Twitter accounts away, too?”
McCarthy in Hot Water
The newly published recordings also come just days after The Times reported that McCarthy had told members on a call after the insurrection that he would urge Trump to resign.
McCarthy initially called the reporting “totally false and wrong,” but shortly after his denial, The Times received permission from their source to publish audio where he can be heard saying precisely that.
McCarthy, for his part, has tried to spin the situation, claiming that his remarks were still true because he never actually followed through on the plan to call Trump.
Still, the situation prompted widespread backlash from the far-right faction of the Republican party.
Multiple people expressed hesitancy about their support for McCarthy as Speaker of the House if Republicans take control of the chamber in the midterm elections. Some said they could not trust him.
Speaking on his show Tuesday, Foxs News host Tucker Carlson called McCarthy “a puppet of the Democratic Party.”
Gaetz also responded with ire, tweeting out a statement in which he referred to the call as “sniveling” and said of McCarthy and Scalise: “This is the behavior of weak men, not leaders.”
Other members mentioned in the call, however, appeared to brush it off. In a statement to Axios, Moore claimed that the story was engineered by “RINOS” (Republicans in Name Only), and that “Republicans will be more united than ever after taking back the House this November.”
It currently remains unclear whether these revelations with pose any long-term threat to McCarthy, but if Trump is any indication of the far-right party line, the House leader may be in the clear.
After The Times published the audio of McCarthy saying Trump should resign, the former president told The Wall Street Journal that the relationship between the two men was untroubled.
“I think it’s all a big compliment, frankly,” he added. “They realized they were wrong and supported me.”