WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, a federal judge issued a ruling on Florida’s voter suppression law, Senate Bill 90, that was passed in May 2021. In a 288-page opinion released following a two-week bench trial, Chief Judge Mark E. Walker of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida struck down the most harmful provisions of the law, ensuring that all Floridians and specifically Black voters can access the ballot box in future elections. In his ruling, Walker struck down three out of five challenged provisions — which you can read more about in our Case Watch — after concluding that they are “intentionally discriminatory” against Black Floridians in violation of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and 14th and 15th Amendments.
Because Black voters in Florida overwhelmingly favor Democratic candidates over Republicans, the judge concluded that, in order “to advance the Legislature’s main goal of favoring Republicans over Democrats, the Legislature enacted some of SB 90’s provisions with the intent to target Black voters because of their propensity to favor Democratic candidates.” Walker concluded that the three blocked provisions — S.B. 90’s line-warming ban, drop box restrictions and warning requirement for third-party voter registration organizations (3PVROs) — “specifically target Black voters,” especially given that the Legislature “knew about SB 90’s disparate impacts” but passed the law anyways. The judge also concluded that the line-warming ban and 3PVRO warning requirement violated the First Amendment. Walker did not find that the challenged provisions were passed with the intent to discriminate against Latino voters. Walker found that the two remaining provisions — the vote-by-mail repeat request requirement and new mail-in ballot application requirements — did not violate federal law. Finally, Walker held that none of the challenged provisions discriminated against voters with disabilities in violation of federal law.
In an extraordinary move, Walker placed Florida under preclearance requirements for the next 10 years — a power granted to federal courts under Section 3(c) of the VRA if they find that jurisdictions have engaged in intentional discrimination in voting practices. After describing Florida’s history of racial discrimination at length, Walker concluded that “Florida has repeatedly, recently, and persistently acted to deny Black Floridians access to the franchise.” In deciding to place Florida under preclearance, Walker stated that “At some point, when the Florida Legislature passes law after law disproportionately burdening Black voters, this Court can no longer accept that the effect is incidental.” Walker recognized that, given recent court decisions across the country, the “right to vote, and the VRA particularly, are under siege.” In blocking the most harmful provisions of S.B. 90 today, Walker protected Floridians’ “sacred right to vote—won at great cost in blood and treasure.”