Brennan Center Response to 11th Circuit Ruling in Florida Felony Disenfranchisement Case

April 12, 2005

For Immediate Release

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Brennan Center Response to 11th Circuit Ruling in Florida Felony Disenfranchisement Case

Attorneys for the plaintiff class in Johnson v. Bush said they would continue to press forward their challenge, despite the ruling today by the Federal Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upholding Floridas 137-year-old voting ban against people with felony convictions. The lawsuit seeks to restore the voting rights of more than 600,000 people who have fully served their sentences but remain barred from the polls by the blanket ban passed after the Civil War in what plaintiffs allege was a deliberate attempt to defeat the political power of newly freed African Americans. The plaintiffs are planning to petition the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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This is a terribly unjust law that needs to be fixed, said Jessie Allen, lead attorney for the plaintiffs and Associate Council at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. This law denies more than half a million people their full rights of citizenship, even though they have fully completed all terms of probation, incarceration and parole. The laws antidemocratic consequences are creating a civil rights crisis in the State of Florida. Under what amounts to a kind of permanent political exile, more than one in ten African Americans in Florida today are permanently barred from voting. The Eleventh Circuit missed an opportunity to redress these troubling facts.


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The plaintiffs deserve their day in court to prove their right to go to the polls. This case raises substantial constitutional and statutory claims of great significance to our democracy, said James E. Johnson, of the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton, co-counsel in the case.

The ruling by the full 11th Circuit today reverses a December 2003 decision by a three-judge panel of the same court that would have sent the case to trial. The case, which was filed in Federal District Court in Miami in September 2000, alleges that Floridas policy of permanently disenfranchising people with felony convictions violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and the federal Voting Rights Act because of the laws intentionally discriminatory origins and its ongoing racial impact.

The Brennan Center leads a team of Plaintiffs co-counsel that also includes Debevoise and Plimpton LLP, Morrison & Foerster, LLP, UNC School of Law Center for Civil Rights, Florida Justice Institute, James K. Green, P.A., and Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law.

Additional information can be found on the Center’s Johnson v. Bush page.