Voting booth. (Credit: CBS New York)
(Credit: CBS New York)

Supreme Court says Florida can enforce law limiting felons from voting if they owe fines

The Supreme Court on Thursday said Florida can enforce a law barring ex-felons from voting if they still owe court fines or fees that they are unable to pay associated with their convictions.

The unsigned order likely means the law will be in effect for the November election, although the court did not declare the law to be unconstitutional or limit ongoing court challenges.

Liberal Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan dissented.

“This Court’s order prevents thousands of otherwise eligible voters from participating in Florida’s primary election simply because they are poor,” Sotomayor wrote in the dissent.

“This Court’s inaction continues a trend of condoning (disenfranchisement),” she added.

Convicted felons in Florida had their voting rights restored with a constitutional amendment 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.

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.

The fees and fines that felons are ordered to pay are wide-ranging but significantly high for an individual leaving prison, especially if they’re unemployed. They can range from a couple hundred to tens of thousands of dollars, Lisa Foster, the co-director of the Fines and Fees Justice Center, a group that aims to eliminate fees in the US justice system, has told CNN. And in Florida, all the court charges that are unpaid after 90 days are referred to private debt collectors, who are allowed to add up to a 40% surcharge on the unpaid court debt, according to the Brennan Center.

This story is breaking and will be updated.

Author: Dan Berman, CNN
Do you see a typo or an error? Let us know.
SHARE