Breaking: Federal District Court Strikes Down Restrictive Florida Voting Rules, Imposes Requirement That Florida Submit Certain Voting Changes to Court for Preclearance Under Section 3(c) of Voting Rights Act Upon Finding of Intentional Discrimination; Appeal Likely

Quite a blockbuster ruling from the federal district court. The court found that in enacting certain election laws limiting registration outreach and the use of drop boxes, Florida violated the Voting Rights Act. The court also found that Florida acted intentionally discriminating against the state’s black voters. And although the parties hardly briefed it, the Court imposed a very strong remedy of requiring that certain changes in voting rules in Florida be precleared before the court for a period of 10 years under section 3c of the Voting Rights Act.

This is a huge deal, and the district court’s analysis is probably right, but there is good reason to believe that this case could be reversed on appeal by the much more conservative 11th Circuit or the Supreme Court. Indeed, the district court seems to signal that very early in the case that the appellate courts have stopped meaningfully protecting minority voting rights:

In so ruling, this Court recognizes that the right to vote, and the VRA particularly, are under siege. See, e.g., Ark. State Conf. NAACP v. Ark. Bd. of Apportionment, No. 4:21-cv-01239-LPR, 2022 WL 496908, at *2 (E.D. Ark. Feb. 17, 2022) (dismissing a “strong merits case” that Arkansas had, to the detriment of Black voters, racially gerrymandered seats in the Arkansas House of Representatives under the theory that no private right of action is available under section 2 of the VRA); Merrill v. Milligan, 142 S. Ct. 879 (2022) (staying, without explanation, order enjoining racially gerrymandered congressional maps); Brnovich v. Democratic Nat’l Comm., 141 S. Ct. 2321, 2351 (2021) (Kagan, J., dissenting) (“Today, the Court undermines Section 2 [of the VRA] and the right it provides.”); Shelby Cnty., Ala. v. Holder, 570 U.S. 529 (2013) (gutting the VRA’s preclearance regime).

Federal courts must not lose sight of the spirit that spurred the VRA’s passage. In June 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote a letter to the New York Amsterdam News urging Congress to pass the VRA. In it, he wrote that “to deny a person the right to exercise his political freedom at the polls is no less a dastardly act as to deny a Christian the right to petition God in prayer.” Martin Luther King Jr., Let My People Vote, The Atlantic, (last visited Mar. 22, 2022). Federal courts would not countenance a law denying Christians their sacred right to prayer, and they should not countenance a law denying Floridians their sacred right to vote.

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