Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks Portions of Florida’s New Voter Suppression Law

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Monday, July 3, a federal judge temporarily blocked provisions of Florida voter suppression law, Senate Bill 7050, which was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in late May. 

One of the blocked provisions bars noncitizen volunteers from conducting voter registration activities on behalf of third-party voter registration organizations (3PVROs) — groups that engage in community-based voter registration. The other blocked provision criminalizes routine retention of voter information for any purpose except voter registration, thus making it a felony to maintain voter information for other activities such as get-out-the-vote efforts.

This resounding voting rights victory stems from two recently filed lawsuits challenging S.B. 7050, one brought by the Florida State Conference of Branches and Youth Units of the NAACP and the other brought by Hispanic Federation. Together, the two lawsuits challenge S.B. 7050’s restrictions and criminal penalties imposed on 3PVROs under the First and 14th Amendments, alleging that the challenged provisions disproportionately target voters of color. 

Last month, the plaintiffs in both lawsuits requested that a federal judge temporarily block the two aforementioned provisions of S.B. 7050 as litigation continues. As a result of Monday’s ruling — wherein the judge granted the plaintiffs’ requests in full — both the citizenship requirement for voter registration and voter information retention ban will remain temporarily blocked as litigation continues.  

“This case arises from Florida’s latest assault on the right to vote,” wrote Chief Judge Mark E. Walker of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida at the onset of the order. Walker, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, also struck down the most harmful provisions of Florida’s 2021 voter suppression law, Senate Bill 90, in March 2022.  “[T]he challenged provisions exemplify something Florida has struggled with in recent years; namely, governing within the bounds set by the United States Constitution,” he continued.

With regards to the citizenship requirement for voter registration, Walker held that the plaintiffs are “substantially likely to succeed on their claim that the citizenship requirement violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” Walker agreed with the plaintiffs’ argument that the noncitizen voter registration provision “impermissibly discriminates based on alienage,” while flatly rejecting the defendants’ arguments. “[T]his Court rejects Defendants’ ‘good enough’ approach to justifying discrimination in this case. Defendants must come forward with proof that the provision is the least restrictive means to furthering the state’s interest. This they have not done,” Walker ruled. 

Finally, Walker held that the voter information retention ban — which exposes 3PVRO volunteers to criminal prosecution if they violate the provision — is “unconstitutionally vague” because it fails to “provide notice of what is prohibited” and authorizes “arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.” Walker added: “The statute’s text is so devoid of meaning that it cannot possibly give people of ordinary intelligence fair notice of what information they are allowed to retain and for what purposes they may do so.” 

In a particularly symbolic victory, which came down on the eve of Independence Day, Florida voters prevailed. Walker concluded his order by acknowledging the backdrop against which this voting rights win transpired: “Tomorrow, Floridians across the state will commemorate our Nation’s birthday…And amid these patriotic festivities, some may feel moved, for the first time, to embrace their solemn privilege as citizens by registering to vote…In doing so, they would embody those democratic ideals that, for nearly two hundred forty-seven years, have made our system the envy of the world.”

Read the order here. 

Learn more about the cases here.