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Florida can bar ex-felons from voting if they owe court payments, appeals court rules

Posted September 11, 2020 2:06 p.m. EDT

— Florida can bar ex-felons from voting if they owe court fines or fees associated with their convictions, even if they are unable to pay, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

The 6-4 ruling by the full 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court's ruling blocking the law.

The law, Chief Judge William Pryor wrote in the majority opinion, doesn't constitute a poll tax. Instead, it's meant to promote "full rehabilitation."

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Earlier this year, the US Supreme Court said Florida can enforce the law while the legal case over its constitutionality plays out, meaning the rule would likely be in place for the November elections.

Friday's ruling overturns a decision from US District Court Robert Hinkle, who had said the Florida law, in respect to those people who are unable to pay, violates the Constitution. Hinkle called the state's procedure an "unconstitutional pay-to-vote system."

Convicted felons in Florida had their voting rights restored with a constitutional amendment that passed in November 2018. Amendment 4, which allowed convicted felons who complete "all terms of sentence" the right to vote, passed with nearly 65% of the vote, exceeding the 60% threshold required.

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After Amendment 4 went into effect in January 2019, the GOP-led Florida Legislature passed, and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed, a bill that clarified "all terms of sentence" to include legal financial obligations such as fines, fees and restitution.

Multiple groups, including the Campaign Legal Center and American Civil Liberties Union, filed a flurry of legal challenges arguing the new law was unconstitutional and amounted to a "poll tax."

This story is breaking and will be updated.

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