On Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, Florida’s voter suppression law, SB 7066, was upheld by six judges on the 11tth U.S. Circut Court of Appeals. Notably, all of the judges were appointed by Trump and one, Judge William Pryor, is on the president’s Supreme Court shortlist.
Nearly, 774,000 Floridians — disproportionately Black —who have served their sentences and completed their probation or parole but still owe court debt, will not be allowed to vote. Before regaining their right to vote, returning Florida citizens must pay all of their legal financial obligations which consists of fees Florida imposes on people that go through the criminal justice system.
It is being argued that even if returning Florida citizens wanted to or could pay the poll tax, the amount owed is uncertain, causing further strain on voter restoration. Pryor stated, “the amount of financial obligations imposed in a sentence is usually clear from the judgment, which can be obtained by the county of conviction.”
On the contrary, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle determined that confirming outstanding fines and fees owed to the state of Florida was “sometimes easy, sometimes hard, and sometimes impossible.”
The upholding of Florida’s voter suppression law is being likened to a poll tax and is gaining criticism. The poll tax was a way to legally keep Black people from voting in the south in the late 1800s, well after the Emancipation Proclamation. Blacks that were eligible to vote had to pay a poll tax before they could cast their vote. Poor white people were excused from payment of this tax via a “grandfather clause,” if they had ancestors who voted prior to the Civil War. Black people were not afforded any exemptions. Later, the Twenty-Fourth Amendment abolished poll taxes and in 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court deemed them unconstitutional.
Despite dissenting arguments, Pryor is holding fast to his position to uphold the Florida law. He is adamant that SB 7066 is constitutional because the fees and costs to fund its court system are, in fact, not a tax but a criminal penalty. To the contrary, Judge Adalberto Jordan indicated, “the fees and costs here do not aim to outlaw any behavior” but rather “serve primarily to raise revenue for the state, and therefore are taxes.” Florida charges fees to everyone that is convicted of a felony.
Some believe anti-democratic views may be shared by the majority of federal judges. Pryor opposed the decisions of federal judges in the 1960s that stopped the advancement of racist schemes. In an address to his colleagues, he relayed, “Our duty is not to reach the outcomes we think will please whoever comes to sit on the court of human history. We will answer for our work to the Judge who sits outside of human history.”
The 2020 presidential election is Nov. 3, therefore the Supreme Court will not have time to review Florida’s voter suppression law before its time to cast the next major vote.
Written by Sheree Bynum
Edited by Cathy Milne-Ware
Slate: The Decision Upholding Florida’s Jim Crow–Style Poll Tax Is an Affront to Democracy; Perry Grossman and Mark Joseph Stern
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Thomas Hawk’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License