Analysis: Eleventh Circuit Blocks Preliminary Relief in Florida Voting Case, Saying There Wasn’t Evidence Florida Enacted Its Law with Racially Discriminatory Intent and Blocking Preclearance for Florida’s Voting Laws

Back in March, I wrote about a “blockbuster” ruling of a federal district court that not only found some of Florida’s restrictive voting laws illegal; it also found that Florida enacted them with racially discriminatory intent. That finding allowed the court, under section 3 of the Voting Rights Act, to put Florida back under federal supervision for its voting laws.

As audacious as that opinion is, I expected reversal, as did the district court in its own opinion. I wrote: “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.”

Today that ruling came, as a panel of three Trump-appointed judges reversed the preliminary injunction in the case. It’s only a ruling on a preliminary injunction and it could be reversed later down the line, but I doubt it.

Much of the ruling is about timing, and application (or misapplication) of the Purcell Principle, the idea that courts cannot make last minute changes close to the election. The ruling here vastly expands the already bad Purcell principle to cover larger swatches of time. It’s become a way for conservative judges to allow bad and unconstitutional laws to remain in effect for at least one election cycle.

Even worse than that, the ruling applies a “presumption of good faith” to defeat the claim of intentional discrimination against Florida. This is another Justice Alito Special, a way to prevent courts from finding intentional racial discrimination when legislatures pass voting laws. I explained how it and related laws insulate states from such claims in The Supreme Court’s Pro-Partisanship Turn, 109 Georgetown Law Journal Online 50 (2020).

The only good news: according to the first footnote, this ruling on a preliminary injunction has no precedential effect in the 11th Circuit. But it DOES telegraph what these judges think about protecting voting rights. Which is, not much.

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