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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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Jan. 6 Rally Organizers Say They Met With Members of Congress and White House Officials Ahead of Insurrection

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Two sources told Rolling Stone that they participated in “dozens” of meetings with “multiple members of Congress” and top White House aides to plan the rallies that proceeded the Jan. 6 insurrection.


Rolling Stone Report

Members of Congress and White House Staffers under former President Donald Trump allegedly helped plan the Jan. 6 protests that took place outside the U.S. Capitol ahead of the insurrection, according to two sources who spoke to Rolling Stone.

According to a report the outlet published Sunday, the two people, identified only as “a rally organizer” and “a planner,” have both “begun communicating with congressional investigators.”

The two told Rolling Stone that they participated in “dozens” of planning briefings ahead of the protests and said that “multiple members of Congress were intimately involved in planning both Trump’s efforts to overturn his election loss and the Jan. 6 events that turned violent.”

“I remember Marjorie Taylor Greene specifically,” the person identified as a rally organizer said. “I remember talking to probably close to a dozen other members at one point or another or their staffs.”

The two also told Rolling Stone that a number of other Congress members were either personally involved in the conversations or had staffers join, including Representatives Paul Gosar (R-Az.), Lauren Boebert (R-Co.), Mo Brooks (R-Al.), Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), Andy Biggs (R-Az.), and Louie Gohmert (R-Tx.).

The outlet added that it “separately obtained documentary evidence that both sources were in contact with Gosar and Boebert on Jan. 6,” though it did not go into further detail. 

A spokesperson for Greene has denied involvement with planning the protests, but so far, no other members have responded to the report. 

Previous Allegations Against Congressmembers Named

This is not the first time allegations have surfaced concerning the involvement of some of the aforementioned congress members regarding rallies that took place ahead of the riot.

As Rolling Stone noted, Gosar, Greene, and Boebert were all listed as speakers at the “Wild Protest” at the Capitol on Jan. 6, which was arranged by “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander.

Additionally, Alexander said during a now-deleted live stream in January that he personally planned the rally with the help of Gosar, Biggs, and Brooks.

Biggs and Brooks previously denied any involvement in planning the event, though Brooks did speak at a pro-Trump protest on Jan. 6.

Gosar, for his part, has remained quiet for months but tagged Alexander in numerous tweets involving Stop the Steal events leading up to Jan. 6, including one post that appears to be taken at a rally at the Capitol hours before the insurrection.

Notably, the organizer and the planner also told Rolling Stone that Gosar “dangled the possibility of a ‘blanket pardon’ in an unrelated ongoing investigation to encourage them to plan the protests.”

Alleged White House Involvement

Beyond members of Congress, the outlet reported that the sources “also claim they interacted with members of Trump’s team, including former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who they describe as having had an opportunity to prevent the violence.”

Both reportedly described Meadows “as someone who played a major role in the conversations surrounding the protests.”

The two additionally said Katrina Pierson, who worked for the Trump campaign in both 2016 and 2020, was a key liaison between the organizers of the demonstrations and the White House.

“Katrina was like our go-to girl,” the organizer told the outlet. “She was like our primary advocate.”

According to Rolling Stone, the sources have so far only had informal talks with the House committee investigating the insurrection but are expecting to testify publicly. Both reportedly said they would share “new details about the members’ specific roles” in planning the rallies with congressional investigators.

See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (Business Insider) (Forbes)

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Jan. 6 Committee Prepares Criminal Charges Against Steve Bannon for Ignoring Subpoena

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The move comes after former President Trump told several of his previous aides not to cooperate with the committee’s investigation into the insurrection.


Bannon Refuses to Comply With Subpoena

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection announced Thursday that it is seeking to hold former White House advisor Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena.

The decision marks a significant escalation in the panel’s efforts to force officials under former President Donald Trump’s administration to comply with its probe amid Trump’s growing efforts to obstruct the inquiry.

In recent weeks, the former president has launched a number of attempts to block the panel from getting key documents, testimonies, and other evidence requested by the committee that he claims are protected by executive privilege.

Notably, some of those assertions have been shut down. On Friday, President Joe Biden rejected Trump’s effort to withhold documents relating to the insurrection.

Still, Trump has also directed former officials in his administration not to comply with subpoenas or cooperate with the committee. 

That demand came after the panel issued subpoenas ordering depositions from Bannon and three other former officials: Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino, and Pentagon Chief of Staff Kash Patel.

After Trump issued his demand, Bannon’s lawyer announced that he would not obey the subpoena until the panel reached an agreement with Trump or a court ruled on the executive privilege matter.

Many legal experts have questioned whether Bannon, who left the White House in 2017, can claim executive privilege for something that happened when he was not working for the executive.

Panel Intensifies Compliance Efforts

The Thursday decision from the committee is significant because it will likely set up a legal battle and test how much authority the committee can and will exercise in requiring compliance.

It also sets an important precedent for those who have been subpoenaed. While Bannon is the first former official to openly defy the committee, there have been reports that others plan to do the same. 

The panel previously said Patel and Meadows were “engaging” with investigators, but on Thursday, several outlets reported that the two — who were supposed to appear before the body on Thursday and Friday respectively —  are now expected to be given an extension or continuance.

Sources told reporters that Scavino, who was also asked to testify Friday, has had his deposition postponed because service of his subpoena was delayed.

As far as what happens next for Bannon, the committee will vote to adopt the contempt report next week. Once that is complete, the matter will go before the House for a full vote.  

Assuming the Democratic-held House approves the contempt charge, it will then get referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to bring the matter before a grand jury.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Washington Post) (Bloomberg)

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Senate Votes To Extend Debt Ceiling Until December

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The move adds another deadline to Dec. 3, which is also when the federal government is set to shut down unless Congress approves new spending.


Debt Ceiling Raised Temporarily

The Senate voted on Thursday to extend the debt ceiling until December, temporarily averting a fiscal catastrophe.

The move, which followed weeks of stalemate due to Republican objections, came after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) partially backed down from his blockade and offered a short-term proposal.

After much whipping of votes, 11 Republicans joined Democrats to break the legislative filibuster and move to final approval of the measure. The bill ultimately passed in a vote of 50-48 without any Republican support.

The legislation will now head to the House, where Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said members would be called back from their current recess for a vote on Tuesday. 

The White House said President Joe Biden would sign the measure, but urged Congress to pass a longer extension.

“We cannot allow partisan politics to hold our economy hostage, and we can’t allow the routine process of paying our bills to turn into a confidence-shaking political showdown every two years or every two months,’’ White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

Under the current bill, the nation’s borrowing limit will be increased by $480 billion, which the Treasury Department said will cover federal borrowing until around Dec. 3.

The agency had previously warned that it would run out of money by Oct. 18 if Congress failed to act. Such a move would have a chilling impact on the economy, forcing the U.S. to default on its debts and potentially plunging the country into a recession. 

Major Hurdles Remain

While the legislation extending the ceiling will certainly offer temporary relief, it sets up another perilous deadline for the first Friday in December, when government funding is also set to expire if Congress does not approve another spending bill.

Regardless of the new deadline, many of the same hurdles lawmakers faced the first time around remain. 

Democrats are still struggling to hammer out the final details of Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending agenda, which Republicans have strongly opposed.

Notably, Democratic leaders previously said they could pass the bill through budget reconciliation, which would allow them to approve the measure with 50 votes and no Republican support.

Such a move would require all 50 Senators, but intraparty disputes remain over objections brought by Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.), who have been stalling the process for months.

Although disagreements over reconciliation are ongoing among Democrats, McConnell has insisted the party use the obscure procedural process to raise the debt limit. Democrats, however, have balked at the idea, arguing that tying the debt ceiling to reconciliation would set a dangerous precedent.

Despite Republican efforts to connect the limit to Biden’s economic agenda, raising the ceiling is not the same as adopting new spending. Rather, the limit is increased to pay off spending that has already been authorized by previous sessions of Congress and past administrations.

In fact, much of the current debt stems from policies passed by Republicans during the Trump administration, including the 2017 tax overhaul. 

As a result, while Democrats have signaled they may make concessions to Manchin and Sinema, they strongly believe that Republicans must join them to increase the debt ceiling to fund projects their party supported. 

It is currently unclear when or how the ongoing stalemate will be resolved, or how either party will overcome their fervent objections.

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

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