11th Circuit Unanimously Affirms District Court Preliminary Injunction Blocking Enforcement of Florida Legislature Law Requiring Ex-Felons to Pay Fees and Fines Before Reenfranchisement

You can find the 78-page opinion at this link. It begins:

On November 6, 2018, Florida voters approved Amendment 4, a state constitutional amendment that automatically restored voting rights to ex-felon who had completed all of the terms of their sentences.

Contemporary media reports suggested that as many as 1.4 million felons could be eligible for reenfranchisement under the law. Accounts differed as to whether this figure made Amendment 4 the single largest act of enfranchisement since the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, the Voting Rights Act in 1965, or the Twenty-Sixth Amendment in 1971. By any measure, Amendment 4’s enfranchisement was historic.

Amendment 4 provided that a felon’s “voting rights shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation.” Following its passage, the Florida legislature passed Senate Bill 7066, which implemented the Amendment and interpreted its language to require payment of all fines, fees and restitution imposed as part of the sentence (collectively, “legal financial obligations” or “LFOs”). The Florida Supreme Court later agreed with the legislature’s interpretation of the Amendment—during the pendency of this appeal, it held that the plain text of Amendment 4 requires payment of all LFOs as a precondition of re-enfranchisement.

Following the passage of SB 7066, the seventeen plaintiffs in this case brought suit, challenging the constitutionality of the LFO requirement. Each plaintiff is a felon who has alleged that he or she would be eligible for reenfranchisement under Amendment 4 but for non-payment of outstanding LFOs. Each plaintiff has also alleged that he or she is indigent and, therefore, genuinely unable to pay those obligations.


The cases were consolidated in the United States District Court for the
Northern District of Florida, which then issued a preliminary injunction requiring the State to allow the named plaintiffs to register and vote if they are able to show that they are genuinely unable to pay their LFOs and would otherwise be eligible to vote under Amendment 4. From this order the State timely appealed to this Court.


Because the LFO requirement punishes those who cannot pay more harshly than those who can—and does so by continuing to deny them access to the ballot box—Supreme Court precedent leads us to apply heightened scrutiny in asking whether the requirement violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as applied to these plaintiffs. When measured against this standard, we hold that it does and affirm the preliminary injunction entered by the district court.

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