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Gruver v. Barton (consolidated with Jones v. DeSantis)

The Brennan Center and co-counsel filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of individual returning Florida citizens, the Florida NAACP and the League of Women Voters of Florida (“the League”), challenging a recently enacted law, SB7066, which undermines the reach and impact of Amendment 4 by conditioning the right to vote on returning citizens’ ability to pay outstanding fines, fees, and restitution. A trial is set to begin in district court on April 6, 2020.

Last Updated: January 9, 2020
Published: August 3, 2019

On November 6, 2018, nearly 65 percent of Florida voters approved Amendment 4, a constitutional amendment that automatically restored voting rights to as many as 1.4 million Floridians, except those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense, who had completed the terms of their sentence including parole or probation.

Prior to Amendment 4, Florida’s constitution permanently disenfranchised all citizens who had been convicted of any felony offense unless the Board of Clemency restored their voting rights. Kentucky and Iowa have similar disenfranchisement policies, however, Florida disenfranchised more than four times as many citizens as those two states combined: between 2010 and 2016, the number of disenfranchised Floridians grew by nearly 150,000 to an estimated total of 1,686,000. In 2016, more than one in five of Florida’s Black voting-age population was disenfranchised.

The process for restoring voting rights in Florida was determined by clemency rules established by the state’s governor. Former Gov. Rick Scott’s clemency rules, issued in 2011, were significantly more restrictive than previous administrations, and by December 2015, his administration had only restored voting rights to less than 2,000 returning citizens, while over 20,000 applications remained outstanding.

On January 8, 2019, Amendment 4 became effective.

On May 3, 2019, the Florida legislature voted along party lines to pass SB7066, which prohibits returning citizens from registering to vote unless they pay off all legal financial obligations (“LFOs”) imposed by a court pursuant to a felony conviction, including those LFOs converted to civil obligations, even if they cannot afford to pay.

On June 28, 2019, SB7066 was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

On June 28, 2019, the Brennan Center, the ACLU, the ACLU of Florida, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida on behalf of individual returning citizens, the Florida NAACP, and the League of Women Voters of Florida. Plaintiffs allege that by conditioning the right to vote on payment of LFOs, SB7066 violates fundamental fairness and unconstitutionally burdens the right to vote under the Fourteenth Amendment, discriminates on the basis of wealth in violation of the Equal Protection Clause, violates the prohibition against poll taxes enshrined in the Twenty-Fourth Amendment, and imposes punitive sanctions in violation of the Ex Post Facto Clause. Plaintiffs allege that SB7066 is unconstitutionally vague in violation of the Due Process Clause because Florida fails to provide returning citizens with sufficient information to determine whether LFOs continue to disqualify them from voting. Plaintiffs further allege that SB7066 chills the League and Florida NAACP’s voter registration activities in violation of the First Amendment. Finally, Plaintiffs allege that SB7066 intentionally discriminates on the basis of race.

On June 30, 2019, several challenges to SB 7066 – Jones v. DeSantis (4:19-cv-300), Raysor v. Lee (4:19-cv-301), Gruver v. Barton (4:19-cv-302), McCoy v. DeSantis (4:19-cv-304), and Mendez v. DeSantis (4:19-cv-272) – were consolidated for case management purposes on the Jones v. DeSantis common docket.

On August 2, 2019, Plaintiffs submitted a brief to the district court requesting a preliminary injunction to halt the implementation of SB7066. The same day, Defendants filed two motions to dismiss the case. On August 15, 2019, the district court denied the motion to dismiss filed by the Supervisors of Elections Defendants and scheduled a hearing on Plaintiffs’ preliminary injunction motion for October 7, 2019.

On August 9, 2019, Gov. DeSantis initiated a parallel proceeding by requesting an advisory opinion from the Florida Supreme Court as to “whether ‘completion of all terms of sentence’ under Article VI, section 4 of the Florida Constitution includes the satisfaction of all legal financial obligations—namely fees, fines and restitution ordered by the court as part of a felony sentence that would otherwise render a convicted felon ineligible to vote.” For more information on the Governor’s request for an advisory opinion to the Florida Supreme Court, click here.

On September 10, 2019, the Governor and Secretary of State filed a motion for stay pending rendition of the Florida Supreme Court’s advisory opinion. Two days later, on September 12, 2019, the district court denied the Governor’s and Secretary of State’s motion for stay.

On September 23, 2019, the Governor and Secretary of State filed their reply in support of their motion to dismiss. And on September 27, 2019, Plaintiffs filed their reply memorandum of law in further support of their motion for a preliminary injunction. 

The hearing on Plaintiffs' preliminary injunction motion was held on October 7, 2019 and October 8, 2019.

On October 18, 2019, the district court granted a partial preliminary injunction, ordering that the individual Plaintiffs in our case must be permitted to vote because they have shown they cannot afford to pay the legal financial obligations. The district court relied on the Eleventh Circuit’s ruling in Johnson v. Governor of Florida, a case the Brennan Center litigated, which affirmed the principle that restoration of voting rights cannot be available only to the wealthy. The fight is not over. The State must create a process accessible to all indigent returning citizens to show that they are unable to pay.

On October 29, 2019, Plaintiffs amended their Complaint to include additional individual returning citizens and a member of the Florida NAACP. Two days later, on October 31, 2019, Plaintiffs also filed a motion to extend the preliminary injunction to the newly added individual Plaintiffs. 

On November 15, 2019, almost a month after the district court's order granting the preliminary injunction, the Governor and Secretary of State filed a Notice of Appeal with the Eleventh Circuit. Twelve days later, on November 27, 2019, the Governor and Secretary of State filed a motion to stay the preliminary injunction with the district court during the pendency of the appeal. 

On December 5, 2019, the Governor and Secretary of State filed a motion to expedite appeal with the Eleventh Circuit. The Eleventh Circuit granted the request for expedited briefing and scheduled oral argument for January 28, 2020. 

On December 19, 2019, the district court issued an order granting in part the Governor's and Secretary of State's motion to stay the preliminary injunction until the earlier of the issuance of an order by the Eleventh Circuit or February 11, 2020. Specifically, the district court stayed the part of the preliminary injunction that prevents Defendants from taking any action to prevent Plaintiffs from voting. The order continues to enjoin Defendants from taking any action to prevent Plaintiffs from registering or from removing them from the voter rolls based on a failure to pay a financial obligation that Plaintiffs are genuinely unable to pay. 

Documents 

Northern District of Florida

Eleventh Circuit

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