Tampa newspaper slams Florida Supreme Court for ignoring voters’ decision to restore voting rights to felons

Tampa newspaper slams Florida Supreme Court for ignoring voters’ decision to restore voting rights to felons
Governor Ron DeSantis Screengrab

In the 2018 midterms, Amendment 4 — a ballot measure that called for restoring voting rights to most felons after they have completed their sentences — was approved by 64% of Florida voters. But the Florida Supreme Court, earlier this month, sided with far-right Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republicans in the state legislature and ruled that felons’ voting rights should not be restored until they have paid back any money they owe for court costs, fees or fines. And the Tampa Bay Times’ editorial board slams the decision in an editorial published on January 21.

“Never mind what 5.1 million voters intended when they voted for the amendment — the justices never considered them,” the Bay Times’ editorial board complains. “In fact, the Court ignored its own precedent that called for considering the intent of the voters when considering constitutional questions and interpreting provisions to best reflect that intent.”

The Florida Supreme Court’s ruling, according to the Tampa Bay Times’ editorial board, “adopts an unbending embrace of ‘textualism’ and cites the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who argued the courts should rigidly adhere to the narrow definition of the words — at the expense of what Framers of the Constitution meant or voters intended. It is a pinched approach by conservatives who warn of activist judges and the creation of new rights, and it has enormous implications for Floridians.”

Reflecting on the broader implications of the ruling, the Tampa Bay Times’ editorial board asserts, “What happens when this Florida Supreme Court gets the challenge to legislation likely to pass this year that would require minors to obtain parental consent for an abortion, when the Court previously ruled that restriction violated the privacy amendment in the state constitution? What happens when this Florida Supreme Court gets a challenge to the expanded private school tuition voucher program that became law last year, when the Court previously ruled a similar voucher plan violated the state Constitution?”

The editorial board notes, however, that “a separate federal lawsuit still could provide a path to the voting booth for those who demonstrate they cannot afford to pay.”

“There is still hope for felons who want their voting rights automatically restored but cannot afford to pay their fines, fees, court costs and restitution,” the Tampa Bay Times’ editorial board asserts. “There is less hope for those relying on the Florida Constitution and this court to protect abortion rights, public education and other long-established values.”

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