It's 2020 and Florida's Supreme Court Just Ruled in Favor of a Poll Tax

September 9, 2020 0 By HearthstoneYarns

Florida’s state Supreme Court on Thursday ruled in favor of denying convicted felons the right to vote if they do not pay fines and fees associated with their incarceration, a decision that was immediately assailed by rights activists as an unconstitutional and immoral poll tax.

In a statement condemning the ruling (pdf), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ACLU of Florida, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund said the ruling “does not—indeed, cannot—alter what the U.S. Constitution requires.”

“A federal court has already held that the state cannot deny people the right to vote because of their inability to pay financial obligations,” the groups said in their statement. 

The court ruled that “all terms of sentence” in the law included fines and fees because they are included in “any portion of a sentence that is contained in the four corners of the sentencing document.”

Felons in Florida had their right to vote once restored by public ballot “upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation” in 2018, but the state’s GOP-led government has worked to undermine the right.

As Common Dreams reported, the state GOP in 2019 passed legislation implementing the modern-day poll tax—drawing criticism from progressive groups and rights advocates. The court’s affirmation of the legality of the law is the latest step in the process of reversing the initiative.

“The Florida Supreme Court’s decision is disappointing and cuts the 1.4 million people who voters expressly intended to re-enfranchise almost in half,” said the Southern Poverty Law Center’s deputy legal director, Nancy Abudu. “By holding Floridians’ right to vote hostage, the Florida Supreme Court is permitting the unconstitutional modern-day poll tax.”