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Thursday, April 5, 2018

Federal judge claps back hard after Florida challenges ruling on felons' voting rights

Posted By on Thu, Apr 5, 2018 at 10:38 AM

  • Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr
U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker has had it, officially.

In a searing clapback of the kind usually reserved for especially trifling people, Walker struck down a challenge from Gov. Rick Scott's administration against overhauling Florida's controversial voting rights restoration process for former felons.

"Rather than comply with the requirements of the United States Constitution, defendants continue to insist they can do whatever they want with hundreds of thousands of Floridians’ voting rights and absolutely zero standards," Walker wrote. "They ask this Court to stay its prior orders."


For some context, Walker gave Scott and Cabinet officials until April 26 to fix a process he deemed an unconstitutional, nonsensical scheme. In Florida,
convicted felons are permanently stripped of their voting rights –disenfranchising an estimated 1.5 million people. After completing their sentences, former felons who want their voting rights back must wait five to seven years to apply for clemency. After applying, they get a hearing before Scott and the Cabinet, who make up a clemency board that meets quarterly to hear less than 100 cases. But getting to this point can take years for former felons – there's a backlog adding up to 10,000 cases.

Scott, who has made it much harder during his administration for felons to get their voting rights back, challenged Walker's April deadline on Wednesday. The state filed an appeal to Walker's ruling in the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"The injunction in this case does not just prevent the state from effectuating state law," said the motion filed by Attorney General Pam Bondi's office. "It also directs four of the state’s highest-ranking executive officers to revamp a 150-year-old vote-restoration scheme in 30 days. A federal court order requiring state officials to come up with new state policies impinges on the sovereignty and autonomy of the state."

In a statement after the motion was filed, Scott spokesperson John Tupps also said, "People elected by Floridians should determine Florida's clemency rules for convicted criminals, not federal judges."

Unfortunately for Florida officials, Walker had the time to rip them a new one in denying their motion.

"This Court did not and does not draft a single rule of executive clemency," Walker wrote. "This Court did not and does not re-enfranchise a single former felon. This Court simply applied precedent and ordered defendants to promulgate rules that comply with the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States. Bitter pills are clearly too hard to swallow."

If you thought that was the end – wrong. Walker, a messy judge who lives for the drama, continued reading them into the trash.

"Defendants embark on a fit of histrionics atypical for unsuccessful parties before this Court," he wrote. "Defendants stamp their feet and wail that 30 days is 'not [a] reasonably calculated' time to create a constitutional system of executive clemency. This Court again declines to act as a fifth Board member."

"But drafting new rules need not be complicated or time-consuming. Defendants could simply identify those rules that run afoul of the Constitution and rewrite them with specific and neutral standards. Instead, Defendants scream into the wind various questions it might consider in crafting constitutional rules. Answering those questions may be a better use of time."

The last section of Walker's order is truly some quality fury. Bondi's office filed their motion Wednesday morning, and by the end of the night, Walker had already responded so that Florida officials could "seek a stay from the Eleventh Circuit sooner rather than later," which translated into everyday English, probably means, "I'm tired. GTFO out of my court." We've added the clap emoji to Walker's final quote because we are also messy.

"This 👏 Court 👏does 👏 not 👏 play 👏 games 👏," Walker wrote. "This Court is not going to sit on defendants’ motion and run out the clock. If the Eleventh Circuit finds that a clemency scheme granting unfettered discretion to elected officials — with personal stakes in shaping the electorate — over Plaintiffs’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights passes constitutional muster, this Court must accept that holding. Until that day, if it ever comes, this Court DENIES defendants’ request for a stay."

If you didn't catch it, that last dig, "personal stakes in shaping the electorate," is clearly meant for our lovely governor, who's rumored to be announcing his run for U.S. Senate next week. Ouch.

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