Consolidated lawsuit challenging Florida’s requirement that individuals convicted for committing a felony must pay all financial obligations related to their sentence before they regain the right to vote. In 2018, Florida voters adopted a constitutional amendment that restored voting rights to felons once they complete all terms of their sentence. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) then signed Senate Bill 7066 into law, which mandated that completing “all terms of a sentence” included completing imprisonment, probation and any fines or restitution related to their conviction. Five cases were filed on behalf of individuals with past felony convictions and voting rights groups challenging the financial requirement; these cases were consolidated with this case as the lead. The district court agreed with the plaintiffs that “Florida cannot deny restoration of a felon’s right to vote solely because the felon does not have the financial resources necessary to pay restitution” and granted a preliminary injunction blocking the enforcement of the law if 1) the individual asserted an inability to pay upon registering to vote and 2) the individual demonstrated an inability to pay fines upon casting a vote. The district court later amended its initial preliminary injunction to only protect the ability of individuals with prior felony convictions to register to vote, but not to necessarily cast a vote. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed this preliminary injunction, agreeing with the district court that “Florida cannot prevent an otherwise-eligible felon from voting just because the felon has failed to pay [financial obligations] the felon is genuinely unable to pay.”
After trial was held in May 2020, the district court held that the state violated the 14th and 24th Amendments and the National Voter Registration Act when it denied the right to vote to individuals with prior felony convictions who genuinely cannot pay all fines related to their sentence, which can amount to a “poll tax” due to the state in violation of the 24th Amendment, or who cannot ascertain the amount of fines they must pay to complete their sentence. Two parties — the state defendants and two females of color with former felony convictions — both appealed different parts of this decision. The 11th Circuit stayed (meaning paused) the district court’s ruling while the case proceeded on appeal, which the U.S. Supreme Court declined to vacate over the objections of Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan.
The state defendants appealed the district court’s opinion in full. The 11th Circuit reversed the findings of the district court, holding that no constitutional violation had been proved. This ruling reinstated Florida’s “pay to vote” system in full. The two female plaintiffs with former felony convictions had previously alleged that the financial requirement violated the 14th and 19th Amendments because it intentionally discriminated against women of color. The district court rejected this claim after trial, and the 11th Circuit affirmed, finding that the plaintiffs had not proven intentional gender discrimination.