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SCOTUS Deals Massive Blow to Voting Rights for Nearly 1 Million Ex-Felons in Florida

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  • 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)

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Dominion Files $1.3 Billion Defamation Suit Against Rudy Giuliani

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  • Dominion Voting Systems filed a defamation lawsuit against Rudy Giuliani seeking $1.3 billion in damages for false claims he made about the company, including that the manufacturer led an effort to flip votes from Donald Trump to Joe Biden.
  • The lawsuit alleges Giuliani, the former president’s personal lawyer, spread the disinformation in large part to enrich himself through legal fees and his podcast.
  • It also links his false claims about Dominion to the Capitol insurrection, noting that he mentioned the company while speaking at a rally before the attack and on social media numerous times during.
  • This is the second suit Dominion has filed against a Trump campaign lawyer, and an attorney for the company said it might bring similar cases against pro-Trump media outlets or Trump himself.

Dominion Sues Giuliani

Dominion Voting Systems filed a defamation lawsuit against Rudy Giuliani, former President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, seeking $1.3 billion in damages for false claims he made about the company.

Dominion, which is one of the largest voting machine manufacturers in the U.S., became the main target for widespread election fraud conspiracies spread by Giuliani and other Trump allies. Those individuals falsely claimed with no evidence that Dominion machines, widely used in key battleground states, were flipping votes from Trump to President Joe Biden.

Now, the company claims that Giuliani and his allies “manufactured and disseminated the Big Lie, which foreseeably went viral and deceived millions of people into believing that Dominion had stolen their votes and fixed the election.”

The lawsuit alleges that he did this in large part to enrich himself through legal fees and his podcast. It notes that Trump’s top lawyer “reportedly demanded $20,000 per day” for his legal services to the president, and arguing that he “cashed in by hosting a podcast where he exploited election falsehoods to market gold coins, supplements, cigars and protection from ‘cyberthieves.’”

The 107-page suit also specifically outlines more than 50 statements Giuliani made on Twitter, his podcast, to the conservative media, and during legislative hearings. Notably, the company points out that he never mentioned Dominion in court where he could face legal ramifications because he knew what he was claiming was false.

Despite that, Giuliani continued to push the false narrative, even after Dominion sent him a letter in December warning they were going to take legal action against him. 

The lawsuit also links Giuliani’s false claims about Dominion to the Capitol insurrection, noting that he mentioned the company while speaking at the rally before the attack and on social media numerous times during.

According to reports, even after the insurrection, he has still continued to spread those falsities as recently as last week. 

“Dominion’s founder and employees have been harassed and have received death threats, and Dominion has suffered unprecedented and irreparable harm,” the court document states.

Other Defamation Cases

The case against Giuliani is not the first defamation suit Dominion has brought against Trump allies in recent weeks. 

Earlier this month, the company filed a similar claim against former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell where it also sought $1.3 billion in damages over her false assertions that Dominion was part of a world-wide communist plot to rig the election.

Separately, one of Dominion’s top executives has also filed lawsuits against Giuliani, the Trump campaign, and several pro-Trump media outlets after he was forced into hiding due to conspiracies that he masterminded the plot to steal the election.

These cases could just be the start. According to NPR, an attorney for Dominion said it was possible that the company would file additional suits against pro-Trump media outlets — such as Fox News — and even potentially Trump himself.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (Axios)

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House To Send Impeachment Article Monday, Starting Impeachment Trial Process

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  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the House will send the impeachment article against former President Donald Trump to the Senate on Monday, triggering the start of the impeachment trial process.
  • The news comes one day after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell requested that the trial be delayed until mid-February so that Trump’s legal team could have two weeks to prepare.
  • The senators could still come to their own agreement to delay the start of oral arguments and give Trump’s team more time to file pretrial briefs. 
  • Some Democrats have signaled support for this move because it would give them extra time to confirm President Joe Biden’s nominations before the trial starts.

Pelosi To Send Impeachment Article

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Wednesday that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) will send the impeachment article against former President Donald Trump to the Senate on Monday.

The move will officially trigger the start of the impeachment trial process. The announcement comes one day after Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) requested that the trial be delayed until mid-February so that Trump’s legal team could have two weeks to prepare.

Despite Pelosi’s decision, the senators still could come to their own agreement to start the ceremonial proceedings but delay the start of oral arguments and give Trump’s team more time to file pretrial briefs.

In fact, Democrats, who have been pushing for a schedule that would allow them to still confirm President Joe Biden’s nominees before the trial proceedings start each day, have signaled that they might not oppose a delay because it would give them extra time for confirmations.

During his announcement this morning, Schumer indicated that the details were still being hashed out.

“I’ve been speaking to the Republican leader about the timing and duration of the trial,” he said. “But make no mistake a trial will be held in the United States Senate and there will be a vote on whether to convict the president.” 

McConnell, for his part, responded by reiterating that his party will continue to press for Trump’s team to be given enough time.

“This impeachment began with an unprecedentedly fast and minimal process over in the House,” he said. “Senate Republicans strongly believe we need a full and fair process where the former president can mount a defense.”

While the leaders may not have worked out the particulars yet, according to reports, both parties have already agreed that this trial will be shorter than Trump’s first impeachment, which lasted three weeks.

Implications for Power-Sharing Deal

The new impeachment trial deadline could also speed up the currently stalled negotiations between Schumer and McConnell regarding how power will be shared in a Senate with equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats.

Democrats effectively control the Senate because Vice President Kamala Harris will be the deciding vote, but she cannot always be there to resolve every dispute.

As a result, McConnell and Schumer have been working to come up with a power-sharing deal for day to day operations, similar to one that was struck in 2001 the last time the Senate was split 50-50. However, those negotiations have hit a roadblock: the legislative filibuster.

The filibuster is the long-standing Senate rule that requires a supermajority of at least 60 senators to vote to end debate on a given piece of legislation before moving to a full floor vote. Technically, all 50 Democrats and Vice President Harris could agree to change the rule to just require a simple majority to legislation advance, or what’s known as the “nuclear option.”

That move, in effect, would allow them to get through controversial legislation without any bipartisan support, as long as every Democrat stays within party lines. Many more progressive Democrats have pushed for this move, arguing that the filibuster stands in the way of many of their and Biden’s top priorities.

Given this possibility, McConnell has demanded that Democrats agree to protect the filibuster and promise not to pursue the nuclear option as part of the power-sharing deal. 

But top Democrats have rejected that demand, with many arguing that having the threat of filibuster is necessary to get Republicans to compromise.

In other words: if Republicans fear that Democrats will “go nuclear,” they will be more likely to agree to certain bills and measures to avoid that.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Politico) (The Wall Street Journal)

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Biden Signs 17 Executive Order During His First Day in Office. Here’s What You Need to Know

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  • In the first hours of his presidency, Joe Biden signed 17 executive orders and proclamations, many of which focused on rolling back Trump administration policies regarding immigration, the environment, and protections for minority groups.
  • Biden also implemented several measures to tackle the coronavirus, including requiring masks to be worn on federal property and by federal employees. He is also expected to announce a new national strategy aimed at restructuring the federal response to the pandemic.
  • On Thursday, Biden will also invoke the Defense Production Act, which would speed up the development and distribution of vaccine-related equipment.

Biden Rolls Back Trump Policies

President Joe Biden signed 17 executive actions and proclamations Wednesday afternoon. Many of his first acts in office are focused on rolling back several policies implemented by former President Donald Trump that Biden’s aides said have caused the “greatest damage” to the country.

“I thought there’s no time to wait, get to work immediately,” Biden told reporters present during the signed of several of the orders. 

Here is a breakdown of some of the key measures Biden implemented.

Immigration

Biden immediately ended all construction on the border wall by overhauling the national emergency declaration Trump had enacted to divert billions in federal funds to his central campaign promise.

The new president also expanded protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) and overturned a Trump policy that made immigration enforcement more strict and

In similar actions, he also ended the travel ban on multiple Muslim-majority countries and revoked a Trump administration order that would have excluded non-citizens from the 2020 Census count.

The Environment

One of the most significant actions Biden took was signing a letter to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. It will take 30 days for the return to go into effect.

The president also issued a sweeping order that reversed a number of the Trump administration’s environmental policies, including revoking the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, re-establishing a working group to look into the social costs of greenhouse gasses, and temporarily banning oil and natural gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Justice for Minority Groups

In one far-reaching order, Biden directed all federal agencies to review equity in their programs and policies. They are required to issue a report within 200 days that, among other things, details how each will remove barriers to opportunities and ensure all Americans have equal access to federal resources.

Biden also ended Trump’s policy that limited federal agencies, contractors, and other organizations from holding diversity and inclusion training. The same order also disbanded the 1776 Commission created by Trump to study his claims that the education system was too liberal in its teaching of American history.

In a separate order, the president issued changes that will broaden federal protections against sex discrimination to include LGBTQ+ Americans, reversing a previous action by Trump.

Government Accountability

As part of a broad measure aimed at general accountability in the executive branch, Biden issued an order that will establish ethics rules for all people in his administration. The same order will also require all executive branch appointees to sign an ethics pledge. 

Separately, the president additionally froze all new regulations Trump had put in place during his last few weeks in office until they can be further evaluated.

Economy and Coronavirus

Chief among Biden’s first acts in office were his plans for the coronavirus pandemic and the damage it has caused to the American people.

In terms of financial relief, Biden extended the ban on evictions and foreclosures and paused student loan payments until September.

As for direct actions concerning the pandemic, the president imposed a mask mandate for all federal employees and anyone on federal property. He also signed an extensive order aimed at restructuring the federal response to the pandemic.

Biden is expected to enact more policies in regards to the coronavirus in the coming days, including taking more executive actions to ramp up testing and vaccine distribution, safely reopening schools and businesses, and provide more money to states to help carry out those efforts, among other things.

To achieve these goals, he will also invoke the Defense Production Act, which will compel American companies to manufacture supplies for the pandemic response such as PPE and other items needed for vaccines.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (ABC News) (The Washington Post)

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