WASHINGTON, D.C. — On April 27, 2023, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals largely reversed a district court’s pro-voting decision that previously struck down four provisions of Florida’s 2021 omnibus voter suppression law, Senate Bill 90.
In today’s ruling, the 11th Circuit held that S.B. 90’s line-warming ban, drop box limitations and third-party voter registration restrictions do not violate the 14th and 15th Amendments nor the Voting Rights Act (VRA), as a lower federal court previously held in March 2022. In addition, the 11th Circuit reversed a part of the lower court’s ruling that placed the state under preclearance requirements for the next 10 years under Section 3(c) of the VRA.
Today’s decision means that the previously blocked, anti-voting provisions of S.B. 90 remain permanently in place across Florida. Additionally, this means that the state will not be subject to any preclearance requirements imposed by the district court under Section 3(c) of the Voting Rights Act, which would have required Florida to receive federal court approval before enacting certain election laws for the next 10 years. This ruling comes after the Florida secretary of state, along with Republican intervenors in the lawsuit — including the Republican National Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee — appealed the district court’s March 2022 decision blocking three of S.B. 90’s provisions.
In May 2022, the 11th Circuit paused the district court’s decision while it decided the appeal, meaning that the previously blocked provisions of S.B. 90 were in place during the 2022 midterm elections and Florida was not under preclearance requirements.
The provisions of S.B. 90 that were the subject of the appeal included a line-warming ban that prevented nonelection workers from passing out food and water to voters as well as restrictions on the use of drop boxes. Also on appeal was a provision known as the “registration delivery provision,” which was previously struck down by the district court. The provision requires third-party voter registration organizations to return voter registration applications within 14 days of completion to election officials in the same county where the registration applicant resides.
Additionally, the appeal concerned a provision of the law that required third-party voter registration organizations to verbally warn voters that the organization may not return the voter’s registration application on time. However, the registration warning provision was repealed by the Florida Legislature following the district court’s decision and replaced with a written warning on voter registration forms. While the written warning was not on appeal, the Republican appellants still requested that the 11th Circuit vacate (meaning void) the district court’s ruling on the formerly enacted verbal warning provision, which the court ultimately did vacate in today’s decision.
The 11th Circuit affirmed a small portion of the district court’s ruling regarding the line-warming ban. This provision makes it a crime to engage in “any activity with the intent to influence or effect of influencing a voter” within 150 feet of a polling location — meaning that organizations that used to provide food and water to those waiting in long lines could no longer safely do so without fear of committing a crime. Specifically, in today’s ruling, the 11th Circuit disagreed with the lower court’s opinion holding that this entire provision is unconstitutionally vague. Rather, the 11th Circuit held that only the part of the provision that prohibits any activity with the “effect of influencing a voter” is unconstitutional. Nevertheless, today’s ruling still largely restricts organizations from engaging in line-warming activities.
Finally, the court remanded the case back to the district court to determine whether the “drop-box and registration-delivery provisions unduly burden the right to vote under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.”
This decision is largely a loss for voters, particularly Black Floridians, who are disproportionately impacted by these laws. As the district court judge wrote in the now reversed opinion, “every single challenged provision [of S.B. 90] has a disparate impact on Black voters in some way.”