Florida Governor Appeals Order to Revamp Felon Clemency Process

(CN) – Florida Gov. Rick Scott plans to appeal a judge’s order directing the state to revamp its voter restoration process for felons.

Scott announced the move on Wednesday, just one week after U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ruled Florida’s clemency board, which consists of Gov. Scott and his cabinet members, must come up with a new process of restoring felons’ voting rights.

“The governor will always stand with victims of crime,” said Jon Tupps, communications director for Gov. Scott, in a statement. “He believes that people who have been convicted of crimes like murder, violence against children and domestic violence, should demonstrate that they can live a life free of crime while being accountable to our communities.”

Florida is one of four states that require former felons to petition for restoring their voting rights. The state has nearly 1.7 former felons – one-tenth of the state’s voting age population.

Last march, seven ex-felons brought a class-action suit against the clemency board, arguing the restoration process violates the First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment. The plaintiffs alleged the clemency board’s decisions were inconsistent, vague and could have been influenced by political beliefs.

In a February ruling, Judge Walker agreed and openly attacked Gov. Scott and the board over their “unfettered discretion” to deny voting rights “for any reason.” On March 27, Walker permanently blocked the clemency process and ordered the state to come up with a new system within 30 days.

In the notice of appeal to the Eleventh Circuit, Solicitor General Amit Agarval argued the state is allowed to use discretion when restoring voting rights to some felons. The motion also disputed any claims of discrimination.

“The court could not reasonably have concluded that a handful of examples selectively chosen by plaintiffs provide a statistically significant basis upon which to insinuate the presence of systematic viewpoint or race-based discrimination,” Agarval wrote.

In addition to defending the current system, the motion called for a stay on the 30-day deadline.

The Fair Elections Legal Network and the law firm Cohen Millstein Sellers & Toll, who are representing the former felons, said Gov. Scott has had “ample opportunity to reform the process to restore voting rights to former felons.”

“Instead, they have dug in their heels and defended an arbitrary and backlogged scheme that prevents people who have served their sentences from rejoining the community for years and decades,” the litigation team said in a statement.

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